Alien from L.A. (1988)

Alien from L.A.? That's kinda redundant, isn't it?
--TV's Frank

I would like to know how 1980's culture has suddenly become popular again.

Yes, it sounds weird, me cursing the decade in which I was born, but I did live through most of the 80's, and let's face it, a lot of the stuff that came from that period in time has not aged well. Feathered hair, New Kids on the Block, Jem and the Holograms, Saved by the Bell, such fashion items as leopard skin tights and anything in neon...sure, we all have our memories, but would you really want to watch an episode of the original My Little Pony nowadays? I like to think that times are better now that MP3 players have replaced Walkmans, phones you can carry in your pocket have replaced phones as big as your head, and there are way more than a meager handful of channels on cable TV. Our family sitcoms are better written now, our cartoons are better animated now, and if we don't like them, we have an Internet on which to complain.

I can't even watch Transformers on the Hub without gagging myself with a spoon at some of its character's outfits. Is Carly wearing socks or leg warmers? And why is she wearing them over her pants?

I have sort of a history with a certain movie from this accursed era, Alien from L.A. My family and I were big fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its Comedy Central run and this was our favorite episode. It was quite early in Mike Nelson's tenure as host - four episodes after Joel Hodgson left the series, in fact - and the way they put this film through the wringer makes this one a classic. My sisters and I could make fun of its leading lady's high-pitched voice all day long.

Once upon a time (the movie does in fact open with those words - blecch!) on the perpetually sunny beaches of Malibu, there lived a young girl named Wanda Sakmuss...Sakmuseum...Sakmunmsenmun...Wanda, a mousy teenage girl with enormous glasses and a voice that sounds like someone opened a tank of helium on the Bambi set. Her boyfriend's just dumped her because she's a dumpy-looking plain-Jane with no sense of adventure who's too afraid of everything for his active lifestyle of surfing, rock climbing, camping and everything else Californians in 1980's movies do.

She is played by renowned supermodel Kathy Ireland.

Yes, basically they're trying to tell us that Kathy Ireland can't hold down a boyfriend.

We learn as her friend drives her to her roller waitress day job at a typical 1980's pseudo-50's burger joint that her mother was hit by a car and killed when she was young, and that her father is an explorer who left her ten years ago to travel the world or some such excuse and has been missing all this time, so she clearly has abandonment issues and feels she's been rejected all her life.

Yes, basically they're trying to tell us that Kathy Ireland thinks people have an aversion to her.

I mean, seriously, who'd want to date a total washout like Kathy Ireland?

Mercifully, before she starts singing a heartfelt ballad about her low self-esteem and desire to change herself, we cut to somewhere in Africa, where we see her father (Richard Haines) wander around some ancient ruins and fall down a very deep hole.

Somebody (the cameraman, I'm guessing, since there was no one else around when he fell) sends Wanda a letter saying that her father's fallen down a bottomless pit and presumably died as well as a plane ticket to somewhere in Africa to help settle his final affairs. She flies out there, even though she's afraid of airplanes, and while sorting through his belongings, she and by extension we learn that her father was looking for the fabled lost city of Atlantis, populated naturally by Atlanteans, an alien civilization who traveled to Earth thousands of years ago on a massive spaceship that eventually sank deep into the bowels of the planet and still survive today where their spaceship is buried, in a city deep in the center of the Earth.

Funny, I thought the lost city of Atlantis was underwater. And populated by merpeople.

Well, eventually, Wanda finds those very same ruins that her father was rummaging through during the opening credits in his closet or something and, because nobody told her not to or put up a sign or a barricade or even some yellow tape or anything, not that that would have stopped her, this being a movie and all, she wanders down in them and eventually falls down the very same bottomless pit her father fell through.

The pit doesn't prove to be as bottomless as advertised, as there appears to be a bottom for Wanda to land on. It doesn't seem to be that deep either, since she survives the fall without injury. She's perfectly healthy enough to stand up on her own power and walk off to explore this strange new world.

The first person she meets wandering around down here is a heavily Australian-accented miner named Gus (William R. Moses) whom she rescues from a pair of murderous claim-jumpers, and who afterwards reluctantly agrees to take her into Atlantis to find her father, obviously annoyed by her voice, which sounds like a Care Bear on Ritalin. Her "big bones" (which are alluded to several times throughout the rest of the film) cause her to tip his tractor when she first gets on, and in the accident she loses her glasses, but it's perfectly all right since she doesn't really appear to need them for the rest of the movie.

Actual quote from Wanda: "It looks like an underground city!"
Actual quote form me: "Oh, really? I thought it looked like a matte painting."

As they drive along to Atlantis, she tells him her life story in a voice that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks sound like James Earl Jones, and he promises to help her find her father seemingly in the hopes of shutting her up and making her go away. While the two of them stop off at a tavern run by the Empress of Evil from Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and Wanda takes a much-needed steam bath, a ratty-looking girl who has overheard her talking about the surface world and the sun and Malibu Beach reports to Atlantean General Rykov, an eye-patch-wearing female David Bowie impersonator (played by Janie du Plessis, who also plays Rat Girl) that an alien from the surface world has infiltrated Atlantis.

Rat Girl appears again at a restaurant where Wanda and Gus are having a bite and knocks out Wanda with a syringe of something (insert modeling joke here) and takes her away when Gus walks off to make a phone call. She delivers Wanda to so-called "boss of bosses" Mambino (played by Deep Roy, more recently known for playing every Oompa Loompa in existence in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), a midget dressed like a 1930's gangster and weirdly sporting three-inch eyelashes, and then goes behind his back to Rykov to report her whereabouts.

Okay, a quick word about Atlantis. You'd expect a great underground alien city to have highly-advanced technology and everything's all nice and shiny and there's Apple logos all over the place, but to be honest it looks more like a series of grimy back alleys and industrial basements populated by 80's music video dancers and Lady Gaga impersonators. A million possible ideas for an ancient underground alien civilization and they decide to watch a bunch of old Madonna videos on a bender and see what comes from it? Couldn't they have been a little more creative, like with the Silurians from Doctor Who? At least those guys LOOKED the part. And how come these people have never heard of the surface world or anything from it when Mambino is clearly dressed as a stereotypical Mafia don AND I could easily spot a Roy Lichtenstein painting in plain sight in the background of a clothing shop?

This isn't an underground city. It looks more like an underground shopping mall.

After going around town saying that he's "looking for a girl with big bones" (try the personals, buddy) Gus reappears to save Wanda as Mambino and his thugs attempt to hide her from the government (Mambino conveniently gives Wanda something to knock him out with while watching his thugs fight off the Aussie miner), but then loses her again when she falls over a railing. By this time the government has a picture of her and has put a bounty on her head (why the photographer couldn't just make a citizen's arrest right as he took the picture I just don't know), and after a chase scene from a money-hungry mob and some more of Mambino's thugs, she is rescued by a handsome-looking street urchin named...Charmin (Thom Matthews).

Yes. They actually named him Charmin. The film literally opens with the words "once upon a time" and now Wanda has been rescued by a princely fellow named Charmin.

So when does the wicked queen turn up with the poisoned apple?

"Have Maybelline called me back about that endorsement deal?"

Charmin proves to be the only person in this movie who can stand the sound of her voice, which if you will recall feels like a bundle of railroad spikes tied together with barbed wire are being driven into your brain with a sledgehammer, and even starts to fall for her a little. This relationship is only about ten minutes long when Mambino's thug attacks again and Charmin fights him off, allowing Wanda to run and hide somewhere. Then Wanda just...lingers around somewhere for a couple minutes before Rat Girl points her out and she finally gets arrested.

Rykov and another very important guy discuss what to do with the aliens with the Atlantean Overlord, a very deep-voiced short guy sitting in what looks like a motorized swivel chair with no "off" switch. Rykov wants Wanda and her father killed, accusing them of being spies from the surface world sent on a reconnaissance mission for a possible invasion of Atlantis, while the other Very Important Guy says that they both arrived by accident and should be released on the condition that they keep their civilization a secret. Wanda is eventually brought before the Overlord to defend herself (gotta love the voice contrast here--like Beelzebub talking to a Japanese cartoon character), and no sooner is she finally reunited with her father than Gus suddenly barges in and pulls the both of them out of there.

Mr. Whipple, please don't squeeze the Charmin! ...admit it, movie, you set yourself up for that one.

Gus takes Wanda and her father to join his friend Midget Robbie Coltrane, who has been making a vessel which will return the aliens to the surface world via the same hole they fell through. As they say their goodbyes and are about to take off, Rykov suddenly appears, announcing that they are to be executed as spies, when the other Very Important Guy comes in, simply punches out Rykov, and sends Wanda and her father on their way with the promise that they will never reveal the existence of Atlantis to anyone on the surface.

Wanda returns to SoCal with a new-found self-confidence, proven by the fact that she is no longer afraid to be seen at the beach in a bikini top. Her ex-boyfriend sees how attractive she's gotten and suddenly wants to date her again, but she just brushes him off. Then Charmin for some reason shows up on a motorcycle which, being an alien, he shouldn't know how to ride, and despite the fact that she's only known him for ten or fifteen minutes, another fairy tale subtitle tells us that she will "live happily ever after." (Gag.)

Ehh, just cover that up with a tarp. I'm sure no one will notice.

Somewhere in Alien from L.A. is a story about an ugly duckling who becomes a beautiful swan. Somewhere in Alien from L.A. is a story about a girl braving the elements looking for her long lost father. Don't get me wrong, those subplots ARE in there somewhere, but they are buried quite deep in this mishmash of early MTV, Alice in Wonderland and Blade Runner. Much of the film is just Kathy Ireland running around Atlantis squeaking at everybody while the other characters are so underdeveloped that they just come and go as they please. Not that back alleys and industrial basements aren't a good place to chase a movie character around in, but back alleys and industrial basements with Australian glam rockers, flamboyant gangsters and a lady Dick Cheney with an eye-patch kinda force you to tune out the rest of the movie.

Another thing that is distracting from the plot is that Kathy Ireland CANNOT ACT. Yes, she's quite easy on the eyes, but that's about all she contributes to this film. You can tell that she had to be DIRECTED to act in some parts--for example, one scene requires her to be tired and she acts like she's just smoked a truckload of weed. It's little wonder why every one in this film thinks so little of Wanda--she doesn't really do anything to make her a very sympathetic character...or make this movie enjoyable to anyone except masochists and the most enthusiastic bad movie aficionado.

And have I mentioned that her voice is unnaturally high-pitched and really annoying?

I'll bet that a lot of you skipped past this whole review just to get to the "after" picture at the very end.
Understandable...you'll want to watch this movie like that, too.

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