Sunday, April 26, 2009

STV Review: Alien Raiders

One of the main perks of my gig as REEL TALK showrunner is that I get sent lots of DVDs. TONS. I'm not kidding. So many regular & Blu-ray discs come across my desk/cubicle @ 30 Rock, that every few weeks I have huge 'everything must go!' giveaways for everyone at WNBC (our show is produced by WNBC for NBC Uni Syndication).

I don't give all of them away. I pass on some DVDs to certain people in the building who help me whenever I need assistance to make things happen, whether for the show or for one of our many interview guests. Some may call this a bribe but I look at it as rewarding ingenuity.

Still others I hold on to - mainly direct-to-DVD and movies making their Blu-ray debut -- so I can watch them and write reviews for the REEL TALK website. Alison & Jeffrey have to watch so many movies that they literally don't have enough time in the day to add films not getting theatrical releases to their must-see pile.

That's where I come in.

I love watching Action, Horror and Sci-Fi movies, any and all kinds. And those genres are well-represented in the STV category (STV standing for Straight-to-Video). And with more and more of these films featuring well-known stars (Sam L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Gerard Butler and Ewan McGregor are just some of the familiar names toplining STVs I've been sent recently), Ive decided it's time to give some of the films a closer look and see if they live down to the turgid reputation films that skip the cinema have, or if there's an occasional diamond in the rough out there the studios missed ("Slumdog Millionaire" was thisclose to going STV, after all).

Yep, just what the Web needs: More movie reviews!

Our first STV is "Alien Raiders." Aside from being a hybrid of all three of my favorite film genres, it also stars one of my favorite TV actors, Carlos Bernard (AKA Tony Almeida from "24").

Bernard is the leader of a militia-style group tracking alien life forms who have arrived on our planet. These alien beings plant themselves inside a host human body ('Alien' style) and then at some point, take it over and turn that host body into a mutated, grotesque mess. The King & Queen are their target, because if you kill the parent aliens, they can't produce more disgusting little critters.

The 'Alien Raiders' track the aliens to a small town Arizona supermarket. At closing time, Bernard's team moves in and stages a holdup to seal off the market and contain the aliens. One member of the team is a spotter, someone who has the ability to spot an infected human. If the spotter IDs you as being infected, another member of the team puts a bullet in your brain. As they explain in the movie, you're already dead, anyway.

(One apparently becomes a spotter by being a junkie. the chemicals in your system prevent an alien from completely infecting you, but with enough alien stuff inside you to help you detect them. Oh, and the only way to stay alive is to keep using.)

As luck (and cinematic plot devices) would have it, this market is where the town sheriff's stepdaughter works, so soon the local police surround the building and now we have an Alien Search & Destroy mission disguised as a supermarket heist, combined with a hostage crisis.

Soon, complications arise and the raiders are forced to improvise to figure out which of the hostages is infected. Director Ben Rock uses the supermarket setting for some effective cat-and-mouse sequences.

Having one main set piece probably saved him a ton of production costs, but he should have figured out a way to get more lights. I know some of the murky photography was by design, to disguise the barebones monster makeup and to emphasize the scarier moments, but some scenes are so dark you can't make out what the hell's going on.

The script is bare bones and contains the usual types of characters who populate these kinds of movies. As the grim-faced, tortured leader, Bernard brings his full bag of Almeida glares and anguished looks to the film. He even utters one of his "24" character's most popular catchphrases at one point. Rockmond Dunbar (from "Prison Break") displays his usual angry guy gruffness as the commando team's most tightly-wound member.

And can someone please explain to me why Matthew St. Patrick ALWAYS plays a cop? First on "All My Children," then on "Six Feet Under" and "Reunion," and now here, as the ex-big city cop now hickville sheriff. Would it kill him to play a bad guy??

The hostages are, for the most part, forgettable. You have the young victims, the cowardly manager, the practical older guy and the annoying loser you hope and pray gets killed.

The standard plot holes exist in the story. How does a group of ex-Jet Propulsion Laboratories workers suddenly transform into a commando unit spouting NAVY SEAL lingo, with top-shelf weaponry and equipment? Why are they the only ones who know about these alien invaders?

How "Alien Raiders" unfolds, however, is somewhat entertaining, and rather merciless. The ending seemed unnecessary in some ways, but there is a nice twist that leaves open the possibility for more sequels.

Something else the movie has going for it is its conciseness. There should be a law that no STV pic is longer than 100 minutes. AR clocks in at 85 min., which is perfect. You want science fiction with character development? Go buy "Blade Runner" or check out "Moon" in June. For a nice afternoon diversion, "Alien Raiders" does the trick.

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