Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 7 September 2020

Burl reviews Alien Nation! (1988)


Hello outlanders, it’s Burl here to review a picture set in the far-off near-future world of 1991! Like Independence Day and V, it’s a story that begins with an enormous metal frisbee hovering over Los Angeles, but this time the aliens aren’t here to blast us or turn us into vittles - they’re refugees from some slave planet, looking for safe harbor! And they have big heads so of course you know the movie I’m talking about is Alien Nation!

The story proper takes up several years after the initial landing, with James Caan from Misery playing a human cop who loses his partner to the incredibly powerful shotguns of two duster-sporting alien criminals! He takes a nerdy alien played by Mandy Patinkin from The Princess Bride as his new detective partner! (Maybe on the set Patinkin told Caan “Ha ha, that guy Rob Reiner is a nice fellow! You should work with him some time!”)

The alien fugees are Newcomers to most people, and “slags” to bigots like Caan, but despite his distaste for the otherworldly immigrants, Caan wants Patinkin along because he thinks the big-domed detective can help him find the aliens who killed his buddy! Terence Stamp from Link plays the most likely suspect, an alien businessman/drug dealer who seems like the kind of guy Axel Foley might come up against in one of his pictures; while Kevyn Major Howard from Full Metal Jacket and Death Wish II essays the role of Stamp’s scowly lieutenant!

Most of the movie is a very so-so investigation plot with a little sci-fi and the inter-species tension salted in here and there! It does work a bit to fill in the sociological details of the alien arrival, but that only goes so far! There’s a not-bad car chase, and then some lame would-be monster attack stuff at the very end! Ha ha, this is another 80s picture with buddy cops of course, and as such it follows a formula, and let me tell you, it stays the course on that formula, never deviating for a second! There are, in other words, no surprises to be found here!

It’s too bad, because the potential for them is rich! But the movie sticks to its guns, quite literally, and despite the odd moment of wit, the ingratiating performance from Patinkin and the properly gruff one from Caan, the very late-80s photography from Adam Greenberg, and the fine, if rather boring, trick makeup effects on the aliens, it’s still little more than a routine police meller; and as far as human-alien buddy cop pictures go, The Hidden, which came along a year before this one, is a much better bet! There’s not much that’s memorable here; indeed, I saw this in the theatre on its release and by just a few days later could have told you very little about the movie! Revisiting it this summer, I can see why! It has a few nice touches and it doesn’t stink, but it doesn’t do much else either! I give Alien Nation one and a half cartons of sour milk!


  1. I like science fiction that tackles big ideas, but this backs off at every opportunity from the ideas it raises in favour of the most generic buddy cop boredom possible.

    I'm sure I read that it was originally far more ambitious, but studio interference blanded it out completely. Massive amount of product placement for a certain soft drink too (and a dig at their rival, which is sold at a stand selling dead squirrels to eat!).

    1. It's a real shame! With Gale Anne Hurd producing it, one has higher expectations! But no, ha ha - might as well have been an episode of Starsky & Hutch, if Hutch had a slightly bigger head!