DVD Review of Alien Hunter
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 6/17/05
What is it that separates stars from also-rans? For example, in all the films that I have seen with Tom Cruise and James Spader I can conclusively say that Spader is better looking, a better actor, and exudes a charm, and depth on-screen that the mannekin-like Cruise never does. Yet, the dwarfish dark actor is a sex symbol, who opens at least one blockbuster film a year, and has been nominated for the Academy Award. Spader, before his latest tv gig on Boston Legal (a spin-off from The Practice) was stuck in mediocre filmic sci fi fare like Stargate, Supernova, or the titular film, with the occasional low budget good film (Secretary) shining through. Why? I simply do not understand it.
Is Spader just the relentless artiste while Cruise a no-talent sellout? Thatís my guess. Anyway, in this film Spader plays Julian Rome, another misfit, outcast, rebel scientist-type, with a shady past in the SETI community. He is sent to Antarctica, where he has a woman from his romantic past. In a sense, this film is highly derivative of The Thing From Another World, Alien, The Abyss, and many B films from the 1980s. Yet, Spader was coming of age in Steven Soderberghís sex, lies, and videotape, and seemed that he was going to be a major star, at that very time.
In a way, he is the Julian Rome character, fallen from grace, yet phoning in a performance- Spader as the smirking, devil may care, ladiesí man, and Rome as that within the film. Is there a plot? Yes, there is an alien thatís cheesy, a couple of humans who betray the others, a denouement of sorts to the romantic angle of the film, and an end meant to invoke wonder. It makes the failed ending of The Abyss seem like 2001: A Space Odysseyís, by comparison.
You may be wondering as to why, in this review, Iíve not given many details. Well, thatís because utterly nothing stuck with me about this film- it is wholly generic. Even Spaderís flashes of brilliance (which are there) seem, somehow, rote and forced. In a sense, I felt like this was a vanity film, made merely so that Spaderís small legion of fans would come out and see it. There are other actors and characters- Janine Eser plays Dr. Kate Brecher and Leslie Stefanson plays Nyla Olson, but I cannot even tell you which was the love interest or not. The rest of the cast was generic, as well.
Oh, did I mention that thereís a nuclear explosion, too? No. I guess because little of this film makes sense, although, if what Iíve read about this yearís flop film extraordinaire, Alien vs. Predator, is true they borrowed heavily from this already unoriginal film. Oh, yes, more returns. Spaderís Rome is a linguistics expert whop, in a matter of a few minutes, breaks down a wholly alien secret code- one that even his Antarctic super-computers canít. I want to be a film star, please. And the title- clearly playing off the aforementioned two film franchises that co-developed the box office bomb mentioned above.
Iím in a haze. Is not film supposed to entertain? I mean, even Plan 9 From Outer Space and Robot Monster were fun. Films that are simply bad and dull, well, they star the James Spaders of the world, and folk write about how disappointed they are to see such a good actor in them- what the hell was his agent thinking? Canít Tom Cruise die on set? Like when they did that Twilight Zone film in the 1980s? Wait a minute, Carl Lewis, the sexually ambiguous ex-Olympic track and field champion, is in the film. But, heís black and- well, he dies well before the end of the film. See what all your goldíll get yaí, brother!
Somehow, I was waiting for Jose Ferrer to show up, to be a good bad guy. Or Mel Ferrer, or Juan or Pablo. Someone, get a Ferrer in this film to spice it up! Or, at least, they could have put a scene of Lewisís coming out in the flick, to give it some relevance as the first Alien ripoff film to deal with homosexuality, but no. Iíll bet Spader ixnayed that!
Take the money and run, eh, Jimmy? wait, now I get the title- itís post-modern. Itís so banal and endebted to other films that it all makes sense, now. But, I drift back to Supernova, a film Spader made a few years earlier. At least there he got to get close to Angela Bassett. Why canít I? Get close to Angela, I mean.
Wait, now I recallÖ.Iím not an actor. Here I am, watching the DVD features. A making of featurette. Why do I want to know that the director- name slips me, forgive me, please!- thinks that there is real depth to the film? Then, a trailer. No. Yes. I forget. Does it matter? I refuse to go back and check. You cannot make me. I refuse. This is the prerogative of every good and honest critic.
I refused to do so for Tom Cruiseís abominable Vanilla Sky and I refuse to do so for this film- Spader be damned! And then I remember where I first saw James SpaderÖ.the early 1980s, some meager tv melodrama called The Family Tree, or something. Heís a rebel teen. It reminds me of Family. With Kristy MacNichol. Sexually ambiguous- you know what I mean. Carl Lewis. Theyíre coming to get you, Barbara. No, watch the skies! Youíll enjoy yourself more than this film. Goodnight, Gracie.
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