With the sci-fi epic "Prometheus" hitting theaters this week, I’m feeling in an alien kind of mood. Not the Ridley Scott original nor the James Cameron sequel, but something a little remembered but still undeniably cool – welcome back to Forgotten Friday Flick! (Sorry – been super busy!) This week’s selection may remind sci-fi fans of a TV Show that was spawned, but I’m talking the stellar feature film that started it all. A great flick that combines genres like the buddy cop movie, an alien invasion picture and an old school detective story – all with a distinctive not from this planet vibe. We’re talking the classic and stylistic 1988 action sci-fi yarn..."Alien Nation!"
It’s 1991 and the earth has become a new home to a race of aliens known as the Newcomers. But not all the aliens have adapted well, as some resort to crime and petty theft just like their human counterparts. LAPD Detective Matthew Sykes and his partner Bill Tuggle have seen their fair share of Newcomer crime and on one particular night the two find themselves interrupting what appears to be a standard robbery turned bad. Problem is the Newcomers involved are using state of the art ammo that can pierce through metal and steel and the unknowing Tuggle is gunned down. Shocked, angry and out for blood, Sykes looses the perp, but is determined to catch the culprit no matter what. So Sykes decides to partner with the first Newcomer detective in plain clothes Sam Francisco and needless to say for the very focused and furious veteran detective it’s not a match made in heaven.
There’s actually a bunch of different genres working in "Alien Nation," but first and foremost what works - aside from the engaging story - is style. Right from a fantastic and fast opening, Director Graham Baker gives the look of the flick a colorful cross between Ridley Scott and Michael Mann. His sequences are highly memorable (the tunnel chase is a great tension piece!), his color palate spectacular (from the sun soaked beaches to the dim blue nightlife!) and his overall visual sense is slick indeed. Of course it helps that there’s a lot of great elements that make up the story framework of "Alien Nation" (mystery, comedy, action, sci-fi, ect.), but it’s the two leads James Caan and Mandy Patinkin who sell the show. As a bitter and bigoted old school cop and a wide-eyed and idealistic rookie, Caan and Patinkin are pitch-perfect as foils and friends and provide a very unqiue take on the buddy-buddy cop scenario. Plus there are some tasty side characters including General Zod himself Terence Stamp as a (what else?!) crooked politician type, as well as bad guy 80’s staples Kevin Major Howard, Brian Thompson and Jeff Kober who fill in the goon gaps nicely. Plus I must admit I just loved the sexual chemistry between Caan and Newcomer stripper Leslie Bevis in a playful scene that’s got some inter-planetary hot.
"Alien Nation" may be a product of the 80’s, but what it doesn’t spend on style, it thankfully finishes off in great characters. There was a TV show that followed, of course sans Caan and Patinkin, and it just never had the zeal and chemistry of the original movie leads. It’s real tribute to the talent of Baker’s "Alien Nation" – even in the presence of alien sci-fi coolness, it’s the down to earth characters within that are king.
Title: "Alien Nation"
Cast: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp
Director: Graham Baker
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Company: 20th Century Fox