[3 April 2009]
Lana Lewis (Jody Thompson) is concerned. Her famous astronomer husband Ted (Eric McCormack) isn’t acting normal, which is to say, bland, doting and innocuous. Rather, he seems cool and aloof, talking in a monotonous, breathy voice and referring to himself in the third person. As Lana observes, this is what every girl fears in her marriage: “One morning, you just wake up and there’s a stranger sitting next to you.”
What Lana doesn’t know, of course, is that Ted has been taken over by an alien life force named “Urp.” He’s hunting down another alien who has escaped to planet Earth and has been preying on human beings. Despite locals’ fears of aliens and monsters like him, Urp really just wants to save the world, and maybe to fall in love—tragically, unrequitedly, with winsome waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird).
In the ‘50s cold-war paranoia movies that are Alien Trespass’ source material, such a change in character would have indicated some sort of Communist infiltration of the U.S. Alien Trespass gestures, barely, to such precedents, as well as to the jingoism of recent U.S. history. We might smile knowingly at Lana’s feckless fidelity, not to mention her naïve worries over her husband’s dramatic transformation. We might also find some “irony” in the film’s presentation of the alien as altruist, rather than some dangerous outsider.
The problem is that this send-up merely reiterates previous parodies of such alien invasion films, and has nothing new to say about the era. The B sci-fi flicks of the ‘50s already critiqued their own tropes and stereotypes, before the genre got into full swing in Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Alien Trespass‘s director, R.W. Goodwin, is playing catch-up with familiar satires. This means it’s all surface and sight gags, without context or critical depth, a series of bits lifted from the canon of sci-fi schlock. While this might invite the discerning viewer to feel knowledgeable (when Urp exits his spaceship in a silver Mylar suit, he looks almost exactly like Klaatu of The Day the Earth Stood Still), it can also be too easy—a way to claim cred. The film’s final battle with the hostile alien takes place in a movie theater showing The Blob; the hostile, called a “Gota” by Urp, preys on its victims by absorbing them just like the Blob. The “Gota” itself riffs on/rips off The Simpsons one-eyed, gelatinous alien gluttons Kang and Kodos.
The human characters are similarly stock-in-trade. There’s the requisite innocent heterosexual high school couple, Penny (Sarah Smyth) and Dick (Andrew Dunbar), who witness the alien landing. High school rebel Cody (Aaron Brooks) rails against authority, saying things like “Dig this, cats!” Bubba (Michael Roberds) is the obligatory redneck who lives alone in a cabin near the landing site and is the first to go.
Such listing and repeating don’t necessarily preclude a film parody from being funny or pointed. This is the basic formula of the various Not Another Teen Movies and Scary Movies and their less humorous offspring. Endless litanies of generic tropes strung together with little connecting plot is precisely the point; these are the interchangeable elements required for a “successful” scary or teen movie, and we are implicitly indicted too, for both recognizing and demanding those elements over and over.
But Alien Trespass won’t let our knowledge of the stereotypes it incorporates do the work and make the critique. Anxious that maybe a contemporary audience might not “get it,” it tries to connect its various jokes with a plot, namely, the romance between Tammy and Urp. The story is barely coherent because the spoofs keep interrupting, just as the spoofs are routinely interrupted by Tammy and Urp’s romance. Not sure whether it wants to tell a story or be a parody, Alien Trespass tries to do both and ends up failing miserably.