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Alien Nation

Alien Nation is a triumph of high concept, imagining spacemen who crash-land on Earth as just another immigrant class trying to get ahead. Which is why it's all the more painful that Alien Nation is also just another aggressively mediocre, by-the-numbers action flick. Here's the story: It's 1993 — in this 1988 film, "the future." A couple of years back (in 1991, still "the future") a flying saucer full of alien slaves crash-landed in the desert. Welcomed as immigrants, the freed "Newcomers" (who we're told are stronger and smarter than humans, though we only get to see the "stronger" part) quickly form a significant American underclass — complete with their own L.A. ghetto, ethnic-slur designation, and bigoted abuse at the hands of the human overclass. When a cop (James Caan) loses his partner in a gunfight with some Newcomers, he teams up with the first alien homicide detective (Mandy Patinkin) to catch the perps. En route, they uncover a plot by an alien socialite (Terrence Stamp) to introduce a drug problem into the Newcomer populace. Yes, it's a terribly unsubtle race-relations allegory — written (by the improbably named Rockne S. O'Bannon) using a big, fat Rod Serling Metaphor Pencil the size of a horse's leg. Not that there's anything wrong with that: The ability to craft unsubtle allegories and get away with it is one of sci-fi's chief pleasures. But that's no excuse for a plot and dialogue that takes every possible opportunity to do the most proletariat-mollifying, obvious thing. All the buddy-cop clichés are visited as if by rote: the hero's first partner is killed at the outset; Caan and Patinkin initially don't get along; the gangster's moll tries to seduce the cop (the only difference being that the gangster's moll looks like she's had a mottled Easter egg Photoshopped onto her head); and the reluctant-partners bond over drinks, after which they're pushed "over the edge" and "take the law into their own hands," leading to a showdown sequence set in — you guessed it — a shipyard, at night. Yawn. That said, James Caan and Mandy Patinkin have some charming interplay. This isn't Caan's best work by a long shot, but he's got a genial smirk on his face throughout and makes for a fine slob; and Patinkin, encased in mummifying head latex and hulking body padding, is just likable as hell, nuanced, even — no easy feat, given what he's working against. Features: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1). Very short "Featurette" and "Behind the Scenes" extras. Theatrical trailer. Three TV spots. "Fox Flix" trailers for The Abyss, Aliens, Enemy Mine, Independence Day and, God help us all, Zardoz.
—Alexandra DuPont

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