Alien Nation [1988]

Director: Graham Baker
Stars: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp, Kevyn Major Howard, Leslie Bevis
Genre: Action, Crime, Sci-Fi
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 91 minutes

Alien Nation: They get drunk on sour milk. They have two hearts and bald, spotted heads. They're highly intelligent, but if you drop them in seawater they'll melt into a puddle of goop. They're "Newcomers," and they arrived as refugees in a massive alien slave-ship, quarantined for three years and then reluctantly accepted as citizens of Earth. To some humans--including seasoned Los Angeles cop Matt Sykes (James Caan)--the Newcomers are unwelcome "slags." Sykes's own virulent "speciesism" intensifies when Newcomer thugs kill his partner, but he sees logic in teaming up with Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin), the first Newcomer detective in the LAPD. Francisco's Newcomer knowledge is vital to their investigation of an alien drug ring, and a friendship grows from life-or-death circumstances. A routine cop thriller with a comedic sci-fi twist, Alien Nation has two things working in its favor: Caan and Patinkin form a memorable duo, and the basic premise--as conceived by Rockne S. O'Bannon (who later developed the film as a TV series)--intelligently accounts for the sociological impact of an alien population. The subtle point is made that humans are extraordinary beings who squander their potential, and the evil of drugs--as dealt by a social-climbing Newcomer played by Terence Stamp--leads to a crisis that threatens to generate global intolerance. These points are well presented in a context of overly familiar plotting and standard-issue sarcasm. It's entertaining for a brisk 90 minutes, but in its attempt to be widely appealing, Alien Nation glosses over issues that might have made it more uniquely provocative. --Jeff Shannon Enemy Mine: Lizard-like Draconian Louis Gossett Jr. and his mortal enemy, earthling Dennis Quaid, crash-land on a hostile planet during a brutal space battle. Forced to rely on one another for survival, they overcome their differences and become fast friends. You can almost hear them break into an off-key version of "It's a Small World." German director Wolfgang Petersen, so brutally honest with his film Das Boot, turns warm and cuddly on us with this intergalactic buddy movie. Much of the problem, though, is that the script sets us up for an intriguing encounter, then settles for a simple and sentimental resolution. Noteworthy set design and strong performances, especially by Gossett, push this beyond mere mediocrity. His performance is fascinating, as he must speak in an alien tongue, which he maintains with artistry and consistency. --Rochelle O'Gorman

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