J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

B-Movie Love: Alien Trespass

As a former executive-producer and director of The X-Files television series, R.W. Goodwin must know something about alien contact. When the show relocated from rainy Vancouver to sunny Los Angeles, Goodwin stayed behind, bowing out after five seasons, right before the Files jumped the shark. Now he returns to the flying saucer genre with Alien Trespass (trailer here), which opens in major markets this Friday.

As compared to the Files, Trespass is much lighter in tone than most of the episodes Goodwin directed, which tended to advance the overarching storyline or so-called mythology. It would be more closely akin to the satirical episodes produces during Goodwin’s tenure, like the Roshomon-esque “Bad Blood” or the self-referential spoof “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” guest-starring Charles Nelson Reilly as a Truman Capote figure writing a thinly disguised novel about a particular X-File case.

Much of Trespass’s cleverest satire involves an elaborate back-story Goodwin and company created for an extended trailer, suggesting the film is actually a long-lost vintage B-movie. Trespass itself has laughs, but is really more about nostalgia for films like The Blob, The Thing, and The War of the Worlds, which might have had hooky effects, but were produced in earnest sincerity (and in the case of the latter, hold up quite well on the strength of Gene Barry’s performance).

As Trespass opens, astronomer Dr. Ted Lewis (a dead-ringer for J.R. “Bob” Dobbs of the Church of the SubGenius) is celebrating his anniversary with his attractive wife Lana, when a meteor lands in the desert nearby. Of course, that was no meteor, but a flying saucer, carrying a deadly space monster named the Ghota, for reasons that remain obscure.

A nice alien named Urp has also survived the crash, but to recapture his deadly cargo, he must temporarily take possession of Lewis’s body, making the formal professor appear even stiffer than usual. He finds a reluctant ally in Tammy, a waitress who seems to be the only one in town who can get her mind around concepts bigger than their sleepy community. Naturally, the cops are in complete denial about the strange events going on, but several local teenagers figure it out right away. After a few close encounters and a scrape or two with the law, they unwind by taking in a movie—The Blob.

Trespass has a great hyper-Technicolor look and everyone involved plays it straight, scrupulously refraining from irony. Its laughs are of the gentle variety, expressing love not contempt for the genre. While many actors essentially play stock characters, like Eric McCormack as Urp/Dr. Lewis, Jenni Beard shows genuine warmth and likability in her screen debut as Tammy.

“Likable” really is the right word for the film as well. It is a pleasant, well-meaning pastiche to the flying saucer films of the 1950’s. Though not exceptionally deep or memorable, fans of the genre should certainly enjoy it. It opens this Friday (4/3) in New York at the Angelika and the AMC Empire 25.

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