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.
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