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My Stepmother Is An Alien
Watching My Stepmother Is An Alien decades after the fact, in an era where '80s nostalgia is overwhelming, it seems like there was a formula here. Take Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd, headlining another sci-fi effects comedy, throw in future Batman star Kim Basinger, nab Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, and put Richard Benjamin behind the camera (not exactly a household name, but hey, The Money Pit was a hit), and you've got a winner. Sadly, the results are significantly less than the sum of their parts.
Aykroyd plays Dr. Steve Mills, who's testing two things: the ability to send messages into deep space, and his boss's last nerve. When he fires up his organization's satellite dish beyond the recommended limits, thanks to a lightning storm raging and a jacket conveniently left in the right place, he manages to beam a message all the way to another galaxy...and get himself canned in the process. With no documented proof of his incredible feat and no job, he's resigned to a future in teaching when a beautiful blonde named Celeste (Kim Basinger) shows up at a party thrown by Steve's brother Ron (Jon Lovitz) and takes an aggressive interest in Steve's work, and by extension, Steve himself. What Steve doesn't know is that Celeste is an alien, sent down by outer-space overlords to get Steve's research in order to save their own species.
The premise seems pretty simple. Alien learns about human customs, there are some wacky misunderstandings, and eventually, some kind of romance. From the title, it also seems likely that Steve's daughter Jessie (Alyson Hannigan) will be the first one to figure out Celeste's whole deal. Indeed, a version of these things happen, but not one with any particular rhythm, flow, or wit. The film, credited to three teams of writers, never figures out basic things like a consistent plot engine or much in the way of character arcs. At one point, the script uses a throwaway line to introduce an inexplicable invention (a shirt with special buttons on it), which later turns out to be one of the most incredible stretches to solve a plot problem in movie history. It also seems entirely possible, given how choppy the finished product is, that large chunks of the film were left on the cutting room floor.
A big part of the problem is Dan Aykroyd, and his character. Aykroyd can be funny, but he's best at playing larger-than-life characters -- anything in a range from Elwood Blues to Doctor Detroit. Dr. Steve Mills is too bland, and Aykroyd seems at a loss for what to do, stuck in the role of straight man to Basinger's wacky alien. Basinger, for her part, is game but never especially inspired, and the material lets her down. In an awkward first major scene, she tries to socialize at Ron's party using a mix of misunderstood information about Earthlings, but the jokes (including reciting "Popeye the Sailor Man" and doing backflips) are duds. Later, all the screenwriters can come up with for her include a scene where she performs essentially the same joke about 12 times in a row (reading the definition of the word "kiss"), or drinking batteries as a sign of her other-worldly origins. Scenes where Celeste is being charming or wry are the few bright spots, as well as her soundly beating Dr. Steve in an arm-wrestling contest.
A rational person might expect the film to start with wacky mishaps, build to a reveal, and end with romance, but the movie dives headlong into the romance first, stumbles over the reveal, and then introduces the major conflict in the last 20 minutes of the movie. The film's big special effects finale, of course, occurs before the movie's climax, which naturally relies on the audience's love of Jimmy Durante (no idea how popular Durante was in 1988, but this sequence feels positively ancient now), and banks big on the joy of seeing Steve's sleazebag brother live out his most perverted fantasies. In some ways, the script is such a mess, it feels like Celeste wrote it herself.
My Stepmother is an Alien is given the standard high-quality package from Arrow, which includes a matte slipcover featuring newly-commissioned artwork, a reversible sleeve featuring an original movie poster design on the backside, and a booklet featuring an essay (this one by Amanda Reyes). There is also a cardstock insert advertising Arrow's streaming service on one side and an upcoming Arrow release on the other (this one apparently for Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters) packed inside the 15mm Viva Elite Blu-ray case. In this case, the new art by Colin Murdoch is on the uninspired side, basically taking the original poster artwork and making the faces bigger, as well as adding a couple more overtly alien details. Perhaps he was constricted to using the exact same images of the cast from the actual poster, which would explain the underwhelming results.
The Video and Audio
Sony has provided Arrow with a new 2K restoration of My Stepmother is an Alien, done from a 4K scan. The 1.85:1 1080p AVC picture is accompanied by the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack, presented in LPCM. This is a very good presentation on both fronts, with Sony turning in predictably excellent work with the picture, which has wonderfully refreshed color, excellent fine detail throughout, and a faithfully preserved grain structure. As a special effects picture, the cinematography offers plenty of eye-popping opportunities like spaceships and lots of that classic '80s "lightning" effects, both as actual lightning and also crackling electricity, and all of it looks good (with no notable degredation for optical shots). Sound is a little more basic, being a 2.0 track rather than 5.1, but those same effects offer thunderstorms and alien-based magic as points of aural interest, as well as a soundtrack that is arguably better than the actual movie, whether that's the violin-heavy Alan Silvestri score, or the various needle drops. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Arrow has produced two new bonus features. The first is an audio commentary by critic Bryan Reeseman. Reeseman is a fount of trivia and behind-the-scenes information on pretty much everything he can think of, right down to the Klystron itself. Honestly, he's so good at keeping up the pace throughout the film that it's almost a little exhausting, although there's no denying he gives the listener maximum bang for their buck. The other is an audio interview with director Richard Benjamin (14:08). He chats amiably about being given the script on the street outside his house, working on the script, casting Basinger and Lovitz, the visual effects, getting a cease-and-desist from Elvis' estate, the comedy, the formula, and the release. The comedy section has Benjamin just explaining the jokes, but it's a pleasant sit.
An original theatrical trailer for My Stepmother Is An Alien is also included.
Over the years, My Stepmother Is An Alien has floated around on the fringes of the '80s comedy pop culture sphere, but has never been a movie that seems to have much in the way of nostalgia. Having finally seen it, it's not hard to see why. For fans of the film, this Arrow 2K special edition has got to seem like a gift from outer space, but everyone else can safely skip it.
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