179. Morons From Outer Space (1985)
Director: Mike Hodges
Writers: Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
A trio of interstellar idiots crash on Earth, causing chaos before becoming superstars, but the fourth member of their group, stranded in space, is trying to return to his friends.
A mid-80’s British sci-fi comedy written by the sketch comedy duo Smith and Jones which is maybe enough of a description to tell you everything about the movie. While there is nominally a plot and characters, they’re largely present to allow for a series of loosely-related sketches. Think of The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy or the films of Monty Python and you’ll have a sense of what to expect, but don’t expect greatness.
We open on a Star Wars-esque shot of the underside of a spaceship filling the screen followed by a long chain towing a small camper. And when I say “long,” I mean a shot that lasts the better part of a minute before we get the camper. That’s the payoff. Here’s this massive, screen-filling ship bringing along something behind it and that thing is… is… is… is still not on screen. Oh. It’s a camper.
The quartet of aliens are general idiots and their ship has blown a fuse preventing them from having any fun. Bernard, the “come on, cheer up” guy in the group, steps outside to play “space ball,” aka low-gravity soccer. The drunk idiot onboard uncouples their ship and flies to Earth where they crash, leaving Bernard stranded at the… base? Dock? Hotel? It wasn’t clear.
The government and military get involved immediately, but they’re either brutishly stupid or stupidly insane, which was refreshing. It reminded me how everything went downhill in the 90’s with cop dramas and Presidents punching terrorists off planes. Now people think figures of authority somehow deserve power instead of ridicule. In the 70’s and 80’s, in Britain more than the US, we recognized “leaders” were too stupid to be allowed access to meaningful work—that’s why you made them politicians.
Anyway, Graham, a put-upon newsroom assistant literally stumbles his way into the meeting with the aliens and then… not much. I mean, a lot happens, there are a lot of gags, but nothing of consequence. The aliens are basically mindless tourists so there’s no information to be gained from them. The American ambassador decides they’re hiding their true forms and decides to kill them, but Graham helps them escape. They become celebrities because of this and Graham becomes their manager, half chaffing at their stereotypical celebrity excess and idiocy, half trying to exploit them for his own gain.
Meanwhile, Bernard ends up getting rescued then immediately jettisoned, crashing in the US. He gets institutionalized, escapes, finds out the other three are in England and famous, and works on meeting them.
The reunion comes at the aliens’ New York show, their first in the US, where the trio perform, have an on-stage argument then leave. Bernard has snuck into their dressing room and asks to join them, but is rebuffed. Then an alien ship arrives, the trio address the man who walks out of it, and he turns out to be from the rental agency that they got their ship from. Since the ship has been wrecked, he says they’ll have to come with him. They leave, stranding Bernard once again. Graham knows who Bernard is, though, and the movie closes with him putting his arm around Bernard and discussing plans to make him a star.
The movie is competently done—written by the comedy duo Smith and Jones whose show Alas Smith and Jones seems clever enough and it’s directed by Mike Hodges who did Get Carter and Flash Gordon. It’s not a bad movie, it just never comes together to be what it could. It’s too focused on quick gags to let the characters develop—Graham barely has a line through the first half and then becomes the main character in the second. Suddenly he has an arc that moves from compassion to exploitation very quickly. However, the movie is also too scattered in its plots to let the gags build to something big. There’s the government response to the aliens, the aliens as celebrities, and Bernard trying to get back home after crashing on Earth. It’s too much.
Which is a shame because I laughed out loud several times during the movie and thought it had a real cleverness and wit. This isn’t like the Marimark films that have moments showing what they could be doing, but end up doing a Marimark film anyway, this is a case of lots of good ingredients just not working together. The movie’s fine if you’re looking for something to have running in the background or that you don’t want to give 100% of your attention to—you won’t miss any plot points—but it’s not quite cohesive enough for me to recommend you actively try to find it.