‘Alien Opponent’ Comes Close to Inspired Madness — then Spirals Away

Outside of the world of professional wrestling “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is best known as the star of low-budget sci-fi and action films. His appearance in John Carpenter’s They Live is his highest profile turn, for good reason, but movies like Hell Comes to Frogtown (about, you guessed it, a dude named Hell and giant mutant amphibians) are considered modern classics in my house. Anytime Piper graces the screen is a cause for celebration.

Piper is by no means the star of Alien Opponent, then again, there is no real star at the center of the film. There is no protagonist, no one to root for. You meet characters, each a worse human being than the last, only to see them quickly killed off. Who does and does not warrant their own story, or what passes for character development, feels completely arbitrary. This is only one of many, many flaws in director Colin Theys’ film, but it might be the biggest. You can forgive a lot in a damned silly story, if there’s at least someone to get behind.

When an alien craft crashes in a sprawling, backwoods junkyard, a crazy old lady and her trashy, gold-digging daughter offer $100,000 to anyone who can kill the creature. Hillbillies, rednecks, lunatics, and fortune-seekers of all stripes come out of the woodwork. This crew consists of a Lara Croft lookalike stripper (Adrienne LaValley), an alcoholic con artist (Jason London), a fire-and-brimstone priest with a shotgun (Piper), as well as bikers, soldiers of fortune, a high school football team, and a children’s karate class. All of these and more show up for a crack at the space man.

Alien Opponent occupies the same general territory as Troma movies, full of schlock, splatter, and scantily clad women. Ultimately it’s not a good movie, but in some regards it comes incredibly close to greatness. There are moments of inspired madness that almost, I repeat almost, take Alien Opponent to a level of camp and ridiculousness that could have made it wildly entertaining. Like when the armor-clad invader makes the severed head of a child speak, a group of bulimic cheerleaders “return” their food by tossing a bag of vomit at a waitress, and alien brain slugs that come straight out of Night of the Creeps and Slither.

There are bits like these that are a lot of fun, but in the end they are too few and far between to redeem Alien Opponent. Between the high points there are dull, tedious valleys. You feel like the movie could be edited down into 45-minutes of brilliant and delirious mayhem, but unfortunately this is a 91-minute feature we’re talking about here. It’s when John Doolan’s script tries to be about anything other than absurd genre stereotypes being slaughtered by an alien, that the movie runs into the most serious problems.

The acting is questionable, to say the least, but that’s expected. When London takes off his sunglasses, he looks confused to discover that he’s in a movie, and drops a wooden performance; and everyone else ranges from over-the-top hamming to barely capable stumbling. Bad acting and poor writing aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but when the pace slows down in Alien Opponent it’s like when your feet get stuck in mud, and when you pull them out, your shoes comes off, then you have to waste a few minutes digging in the muck to find your footwear, only to have the same thing happen again with each successive step.

Shout! Factory’s DVD release of Alien Opponent comes with some moderately interesting bonus material. To clarify, I mean that the disc comes with “some” extras, only one of which is worth anything.

A trailer, a handful of deleted scenes, and a collection of outtakes are all completely forgettable and should be avoided. The commentary track, however, is actually entertaining, for a while. First off, there are, like, eight people on the track: director Theys, writer Doolan, and half a dozen various other members of the crew. At times it devolves into a chaotic mess of indistinguishable voices all talking over one another, but the whole affair also has a party feel that makes it fun to listen to. The track you hear on the DVD is also the second take they did that day. When they finished the first go round they realized that the levels were wrong and everything they just laid down was completely unusable.

When you think about it, that scenario is indicative of the whole movie. The players on the commentary know what kind of movie they made. They had no money, they know the wide CGI shots are terrible, and are not above pointing out when something sucks. Which is endearing. And there’s alcohol involved, and lots of stories from the set of a low budget, seat-of-their-pants sci-fi flick. At one point a local hid out and made animal noises in an attempt to scare the crew. Indeed, the best thing about this entire release is the commentary.

RATING 2 / 10