Showdown At Area 51 (2007)

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I’m sorry to say we’re at the end of another season here at the ISCFC, and that season is “Jason London films with Area 51 in the title, where he goes down a long slide at one point”. As soon as more movies are released to cope with the demand for this hottest of all genres, you can be sure we’ll be here to review them.

 

It’s SyFy, it’s one alien fighting another, different alien on Earth, it ticks a lot of boxes. But sadly it’s really quite dumb, and I’m not sure why. The basic gist of things is your classic race against time plot with a few interesting sprinkles on top – London is Jake Townsend, the slightly alcoholic black sheep of the family, whose brother dies defending what appears to be a “wildlife preserve” (but is really Area 51, I guess we’re supposed to believe). Jake used to work there too, before being discharged for reasons unknown, so he goes to find out what’s going on.

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Turns out, an alien called Jude (Coby Bell) is after the MacGuffin Rod, which will turn off the Omega Seed, which will save the Earth from being destroyed – it’s due to go off quite soon, I guess. It also turns out that another alien, Kronnan, a great hulking fellow, is also after it, and he also wants to save the human race. Or does he? Or is Omega the villain? With lots of fights between the two, and with them facing off against the might of the US Army (aka a weak-looking fool and about 50 guys), you have plenty of time to figure it out. Oh, and the Rod only has five gems but needs six, so they have to go to a junkyard and talk to the friendly and extremely knowledgeable owner to get it. There’s a weird bit where Diamond Joe, the junkyard owner, looks at Jude (who’s black) and makes a reference to “your kind”, which elicited some sharply drawn breaths…but it turns out “your kind” is aliens! Phew!

 

Also sucked into this race against time / mystery of who to believe is Monica Gray (Gigi Edgeley, “Farscape”), who’s Jake’s ex-girlfriend. Turns out, she did some work on decoding the MacGuffin Rod back when they both worked at Area 51, but when the powers that be found out about it, Jake took the rap for her, with one of the provisos being he could never speak to her again. Not sure how they’d have enforced that, but okay? So we think he was a flake who messed up his relationship, but he’s actually the most stand-up of all stand-up guys. Although, when he runs a roadblock later on in the movie, he straight-up kills the main Army guy by running him over, so even though he saved the world, I’m thinking a nice long time in a jail cell is in his immediate future.

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Quite a bit of the final third of the movie is wondering which alien is actually evil, and which is lying. But the problem is, it’s extremely obvious which one will end up being the good guy, so it’s a lot of time wasted for no good reason. Kronnan helps out a little kid stuck on a swing-set, and justifies his actions at one point, but then forgets to speak for the rest of the time and just grunts as he’s attacking whoever. Not a great sign. Kronnan’s race apparently feeds off pollution, so when Monica quite reasonably asks “why don’t they just ask nicely for it?” Jude replies “they don’t negotiate, they destroy”. Seems a very wasteful way of doing things, honestly. Invading takes a lot of time and money, asking for an entire planet’s pollution would be simple and quick, and make you a new friend. Aliens, eh, with their weird plans.

 

Taking the ending into account, where we see a huge force of ships in orbit round Earth, sent home when our heroes save the day (the subtitles say “invasion has been cancelled! Everyone home!”), they’re really pretty stupid aliens. You’d think they’d hang around a bit, having come that far, even if just to find out why the Omega Seed was deactivated. But no, they’re an entire race of people who suddenly remembered they left the oven on at home.

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It’s cheap, too (when cars fall over in the junkyard due to laser blasts, you can clearly see the person in the background shoving them), but rips along and has a few fun moments to keep you interested, should you find it playing one evening. London and Edgeley are both fine, too (and there’s an excellent cameo from the most stoned stoner I’ve ever seen)…plus, it has a slight personal resonance, being filmed in and around St Louis, my soon-to-be home (yes, dear reader, one part of the ISCFC will be relocating to the Midwest of the USA soon).

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Out Cold (2001)

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If this film had consisted of its first five minutes, followed by 85 minutes of footage of snow falling, or an empty bar, or of the cast asleep, it would have still been 100000x better than “Snowboard Academy”. This started off a philosophical discussion at home about how we’d have felt about this if we’d never seen the other movie, but nothing exists in a vacuum (and it’s a lot of brain power to be spending on snowboarding movies).

It’s an “ice movie” – wacky band of layabouts at a ski resort, which is threatened by closure or catastrophic change by an outside force (bank, rich scumbag or developer). But “Out Cold” shows how you can actually make a pretty decent film from that template, and the first step is hiring a good cast. For comedy fans, the three main faces you’ll recognise are Zach Galifianakis, David Koechner and Thomas Lennon but it’s packed with dependables – Jason London, AJ Cook (from “Criminal Minds”), Willie Garson (“Sex and the City”, “White Collar”), Caroline Dhavernas, and Lee Majors, to name a few.

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Rick (London) is still mourning the end of his holiday relationship with Anna (Dhavernas) – the name of the bar in Cancun where they met, “Pedro O’Horny’s”, made me laugh far more than it probably should have done. Jenny (Cook) is one of his co-workers and basically throws herself at him for the first half-hour or so of the movie, but he’s an idiot like all men in these sorts of movies are idiots. He’s best friends with brothers Pigpen and Luke (Galifianakis), and they all work at Bull Mountain, Alaska, where the famous former owner’s son (Garson) is wanting to sell up to developer Mr Majors (Majors). Firstly, they’re happy, as a new owner means new investment for the great snowboard run Rick has planned, but he has a lot of other plans that don’t involve a bunch of drunk slobs. Plus, Majors has two daughters – one is Victoria Silvstedt, and guess who the other is?

With some comedies, the feeling you get is the first time you see the characters is the first time they’ve met, and we’re told about rather than shown their relationships. The core cast of this feels like they’re actually friends, though, and it just makes it easier – no need for lengthy “hey, do you remember how we became friends?” speeches, comedy flows more naturally, everything. When they’re given their new Majors Resorts outfits, their reactions feel natural…anyway, this is a huge mark in the plus column for this movie.

Zach Galifianakis really doesn’t like this (although he’s made worse since he became super-famous – the last Hangover movie, “Operation: Endgame” and “Due Date” all spring to mind), and it’s occasionally easy to see why. It feels like an unreconstructed 80s teen raunch movie at times, with Luke attempting to have sex with the outlet pipe of a hot tub and getting stuck in it all night; their initial reaction to a wheelchair; and the very odd lesbian chat room scene. Plus, there’s a lot of violence substituting for humour, but I think that can work, as long as you don’t do it too often. Plus he gets fellated by a polar bear at one point, so there’s that.

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I think its worst crime is occasional laziness in the plotting. No businessman in history has paid millions for new signs and uniforms for the business they were buying, before signing the contract to actually buy it; the central coincidence is staggeringly large, even for a cheapo comedy; quite a lot of people really ought to have been arrested after the end credits; and no attempt is made to put any sort of interesting spin on the central will-they-won’t-they relationship, leaving it to move on rails to its inevitable conclusion.

But, I really enjoyed “Out Cold”, even if it’s a rewrite away from being genuinely great – Lennon is one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters (look at his credits) so they could have asked him to have a run at it, plus Galifianakis could have contributed. There are obvious scenes where they let him or Koechner just go wild, and they’re usually hilarious; plus, Pigpen (Derek Hamilton) appears to be doing a movie-long impression of Crispin Glover, and it’s great. There’s a lot of little things that show care was taken, like Dhavernas wearing a coat from ISO, the organisation from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and the way that large chunks of the plot are not-so-subtle tributes to “Casablanca” – could Humphrey Bogart have delivered a line as beautifully as Jason London’s “We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s”?

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Add on a heck of a good soundtrack and a number of fun outtakes and you’ve got a completely decent movie. The racing scenes are shot well too, by no means a given in this sort of movie, and I’d be surprised if you don’t enjoy this. Its low rating on places like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes is a complete joke, it’s way funnier than those reviews would have you believe. You don’t even need to be on some pointless quest to watch every winter-sport comedy movie ever made to enjoy it!

Rating: thumbs up