As an homage to the silly fifties B-movies of yesteryear, Atomic Brain Invasion works pretty well, with references to such "classics" as Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Mole People for the cinephiles out there. But despite all its pep and earnestness, it can't quite pull off the feat of making this into a really great film.
First off, we're treated to a grainy, black and white intro with one Dr. Baxter Frank explaining something about fish men, and rambling on (for perhaps a bit too long) before finally kicking off the film. Then it's full on fifties America, as we're introduced to most of our characters, a group of high school kids, as they listen to their teacher lecture about astronomy in an observatory. We've got Lukas (Michael Reed) the trouble making greaser, who shows his sensitive side via his love for origami. We've got the resident egghead with a heart of gold Sherman (David Lavallee, Jr.) and the gorgeous girl next door Betty (Sarah Nicklin), upon whom both Lukas and Sherman are crushing hard.
Lukas and Sherman's rivalry escalates (though it's pretty clear that she prefers Sherman), but before too long everyone is distracted by the strange disappearances that are plaguing the area. Aliens could be behind it all, and almost certainly are if you ask burly Irish mechanic O'Brien (Rich Tretheway), who was himself abducted by aliens some time past. Soon enough, a couple of high school girls go missing, and Betty is intent on finding them, or as she says, "organize a search party for the young and attractive women", sure that the subsequent media exposure will clinch her college acceptance hopes. Of course, the military, led by Lukas' dad General Bedfellow (David Erin Wilson) can't help but be involved too, since it's a poorly kept secret that the top secret bicycle testing grounds are really for testing nuclear weapons.
Though their object of common interest is a young Elvis Presley (Brandon Luis Aponte), who is touring in the area, it's actually two groups of aliens involved here: the "cheerleader" alien siblings Blondie, Raven and Siobhan (Alexander Lewis, Alexandra Cipolla and Ruth Sullivan), and the titular brain invaders, who are humans who've been infected and shorn of their skulls so that their brains stand supported by the brainstem and spine, with big goggly eyes. Three guesses as to which are the nasty ones. Once the brain guys start attacking in force, the film really picks up.
There are certainly a lot of moments of real fun in Atomic Brain Invasion, and the producers rightly embrace their super low budget aesthetic, but the plot is too disconnected and the laughs two sparse for the film to really succeed. It's not for lack of trying. All the actors are game, everyone is throwing it all in with gusto, but it all feels a bit underwritten. A lot of the gags don't work, or are a few beats off. And the emotional payoff within the Lukas/Sherman/Betty love triangle doesn't play out as well as it could have. These may seem like nitpicks with a slime heavy, cheesy alien invasion movie, but all the gags in the world don't matter much if the underlying structure isn't satisfying.
Having said all that, there is a lot here to like. A lot of the humorous bits do work, even if many of them only draw a quiet chuckle, but that's a lot more than some straight up comedies can draw. There are some fairly subtle visual jokes tucked around the place. The special effects, while not exactly being what one would call "high quality", fit perfectly in the film. Low budget CG is usually a huge turn off, but it comes across as delightfully rickety here, and there's no question that the producers are reveling in that. The brain creature effects, while goofy (intentionally), are actually quite good, as are many of the other effects in the film. The locations and sets are very nice, and mesh quite well together. And, finally, as stated before, there's an enthusiasm on the part of the cast and crew that positively seeps into everything. These people are clearly enjoying themselves, and are all pulling very hard to make this movie work.
All of that gusto isn't quite enough to bring Atomic Brain Invasion over the hump, but it does promise an hour and a half of simple pleasure, especially for the genre fans. It doesn't quite make it to a "recommended" rating, but it's a close thing. Rent it.