Alien Nation (1988)

Graham Baker directs James Caan, Mandy Patinkin and Terrence Stamp in this 80s buddy cop actioner where the rookie detective happens to be an alien.

Alien Nation is a strange film… just for how normal it is. The first 30 minutes set up the visiting extra terrestrials’ culture and backstory well, without skimping on actions and FX. But once the playing field is in play, it falls back into a standard mismatched cops take down society bigwig who is dealing drugs formula. It seems more relevant that our seashell headed hero has an aversion to salt water than he is a former otherworld slave settling into the lifestyle of a Los Angeles cop. The fanatically reprised cliches don’t come from sci-fi but from Eddie Murphy films. Like 48 Hrs, we roust a “Newcomers” bar and the gruff Caan softens his prejudice to the different yet capable second. Like Beverly Hills Cop we visit a softcore strip club and everyone who isn’t a society bigwig dealing drugs ends up like a happy family. The ride along action and banter isn’t as good as either of those high points of the genre, the alien make-up often is the only hint that this is meant to be anything quirkier than a Lethal Weapon clone. But as a clone, with a high concept twist, it works. Caan and Pantinkin do nice work with rote material, the film looks the part. It could definitely exploit its alien immigrant prejudice angle more, be more adventurous in general but that doesn’t mean it is not ultimately a gritty and glossy mid-range throwback.

7

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