Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: My Stepmother is an Alien (1988)

You've heard the story before. A screenwriter comes to Hollywood with a dream. He writes a science-fiction/fantasy film, dripping in magical realism, that functions as a dark allegory about childhood abuse. A studio purchases the script, proceeds to rewrite it, and completely sucks out the soul. What ends up on theater screens is a dumb-ass, aggressively wacky family-comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger. Selling out art for mass appeal bullshit is just what Hollywood does, right? I'm referring to the backstory behind “My Stepmother is an Alien,” a mostly forgotten motion picture from 1988. Despite these facts, for some reason, I own this movie.

The movie's plot is pretty much encapsulated in its title but I'll expound further anyway. Dr. Steven Mills, a widower with a thirteen year old daughter, is a scientist attempting to establish contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. During a freak lightning storm, he manages to broadcast a radio wave into another galaxy. This ends up disturbing the gravity on an alien world. Those aliens send Celeste, a female agent, to establish contact with Mills and undo the gravitational shift. Celeste looks humans but is grossly misinformed about Earth culture. Her robotic handbag provides her with other worldly powers. Celeste quickly seduces Mills, marrying him after one day, who then teaches her about being human. However, the alien agenda is not as peaceful as it seems.

Given the title and the time it was made, “My Stepmother is an Alien” is pretty much exactly the kind of movie you'd expect. This is a stock-parts fish out of water comedy. Most of the gags are based around Celeste misunderstanding human culture and generally acting weird. Her premiere scene has her barging into a party, eating cigarettes instead of h'dourves, throwing around nonsensical pop culture references, and somersaulting out the door. After marrying Mills, she makes a massive breakfast, including three types of cheeseburgers and a whole ham. She tries to pay for groceries with a thousand dollar bill. You get the idea. Even though this is pretty much a kid's movie, the filmmakers decided to also depict Celeste learning about sex. So she gets a crash course in intercourse by watching a porno. We are then greeted to an extended scene of Kim Basinger writhing around in a barely there nightie. The raunchy stuff is just as corny as the rest of the film's humor but feels very out-of-place, considering the otherwise deeply childish tone.

If you aren't attracted to this movie by the sight of Kim Basinger in lingerie, you're probably here for the goofball sci-fi elements. These scenes provide this broad movie with their broadest moments. Celeste's handbag is a character onto itself, with a robotic eye emerging from it that talks and moves around. Bag, voiced by an extra bitchy Ann Prentiss, has the ability to do just about anything. She levitates the dog onto the roof. Any plot useful objects can be summoned from inside Bag. Naturally, a big conflict in the plot is from Jessie, Mills' daughter, uncovering Celeste is an alien. This climaxes with Celeste floating her onto the ceiling, revealing her alien agenda. Jessie then immediately changes her mind about Celeste after she saves her from a rogue car, phasing her through the vehicle using some subpar special effects. (You can see the crumbs of the screenwriter's original vision here and in these scenes alone.)

“My Stepmother is an Alien” got the green-light presumably because Kim Basinger and Dan Aykroyd were still pretty big names in 1988. Aykroyd presumably signed on because of his real life interest in extraterrestrials. Aykroyd brings a little of his trademark nervous buzz to the part. He's likable and all smiles. However, there's little room in the material for Dan to express himself much. Basinger certainly tries to elevate the material. She's willing to play along with the big, silly gags. However, the part is so thin and underwritten, that Bassinger has no chance to make Celeste seem like a real person. In the bit parts, I couldn't help but notice Tony Jay as one of Celeste's bosses and Harry Shearer doing a pretty good Carl Sagan impersonation over the phone. Also, Jon Lovitz plays Aykroyd's brother, a sex starved nerd. Otherwise known as a Jon Lovitz part. 

Why Do I Own This?: I actually have a concrete answer! When I fished the movie out of a Best Buy cheap bin, I was going through a pretty big “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” phase. The film was the second screen role of Allyson Hannigan, otherwise known as Willow. She plays Jessie and actually gives a decent performance, even if she can't save some of the dialogue she's given. Yet this is not the movie's only “Buffy” connection. The film was also an early role for Seth Green, who would play Hannigan's werewolf boyfriend on “Buffy.” Amusingly, Green plays Hannigan's homecoming date in two whole scenes. It's pretty cute to see this pop culture couple together in an earlier iteration.

At the time of purchase, I was fairly sure I had seen “My Stepmother is an Alien” as a kid. Upon watching it, I realized I hadn't seen it. I'm pretty sure I was confusing it with “Stepmonster.” I don't exactly regret owning the movie. It's not very good but is mildly interesting as a curio for fans of “Buffy” and “Ghostbusters” and, I don't know, “L.A. Confidential.” The creature effects aren't too bad, I guess. It's the only sci-fi movie where Jimmy Durante is an important plot point. This one probably doesn't need to be in my DVD collection but I can't quite bring myself to get rid of it either. Blame my obsessive hoarding. [5/10]

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