Alien Nation (1988)

Genres - Action, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Police Detective Film, Buddy Film, Sci-Fi Action  |   Release Date - Oct 7, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

A standard-issue cop flick with a sci-fi twist, Alien Nation utilizes the conventions of the genre -- the grizzled, rule-breaking detective, the rookie partner, the deadly new drug infecting the streets, and unfortunately, the black officer who dies in the first ten minutes -- even as it subverts them with a bit of humor and lots of Star Trek-worthy makeup effects. A puffy, weather-beaten James Caan plays straight man to an unrecognizable Mandy Patinkin's eager-to-please alien cop, both actors game enough to spout police force truisms without cracking a smile. Meanwhile, the venerable Terence Stamp, in possibly his only role to feature more makeup than his drag-queen character in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, portrays a "Newcomer" crime lord with elegant aplomb. Like the script's crime flick elements, the science fiction ideas here are mostly third-hand, but for a film that's basically a cross between V and The French Connection, Alien Nation is assembled with considerable finesse. The spacemen-assimilate plotline puts more emphasis on characters than on special effects, which probably kept the budget in line and certainly makes a change from the creatures-and-explosions trappings of many such genre exercises. The script's parallels between outer-space immigrants and their human counterparts may come off a little heavy-handed, but they do give Alien Nation a touch of social relevance. Throw in some strong action scenes, some pretty good gags, and Leslie Bevis as an alien good-time gal, and you've got a sci-fi film that pleases its core audience while giving the general action fan something to enjoy.