A few weeks ago, I reviewed Morons From Outer Space, and noted that I had gotten it in a really cheap DVD two-pack. Alien From L.A. is the other film from that two-pack, and it was obvious from the beginning that it was just as much a candidate for the Morbid Curiosity Files as Morons From Outer Space was.
Released in 1988 and directed by Albert Pyun, Alien From L.A. was one of many films by the prolific Cannon Group. Cannon released a lot of movies in the 1980s, including some action films starring Chuck Norris, some live-action fairy tale adaptations, and a veritable mother lode of films that straddled the line between “cheese” and “crap”. One guess as to which category this film falls into. If you need a hint, it was the starring vehicle and film debut for supermodel Kathy Ireland.
(Not that I’d dare to impugn Ms. Ireland’s acting credentials… oh wait, no, I’m totally doing that.)
Alien From L.A. is an interesting subversion of expectations in many ways. For example, it would be easy, and logical, to expect that Kathy Ireland was cast more on the merits of her ability to fill out a bikini than her delivery of dialogue. But it seems the director was actually trying to give her a chance to stand out as an actress rather than just an attractive body, as that body was covered up for the majority of the film. Ireland plays Wanda Saknussemm, a nerdy, shy, California waitress who was essentially orphaned at an early age when her mother died in a car crash and her father left her to go on archaeological digs. She dresses frumpily, with baggy clothes and even when the film does the inevitable “action movie makeover”, she still spends a good part of the time in what is essentially a burkha, albeit one with a tied top, and resembles nothing so much as a moving curtain throughout the film.
(How do you make Kathy Ireland in her prime look mousy? Muss her hair, put her in an oversized T-shirt, give her Coke-bottle glasses, and hope nobody notices she’s still Kathy Ireland underneath.)
The mousy image is further “helped” by a strange insistence on the character speaking in a high-pitched, squeaky voice the entire time (this is broken only once, and apparently by accident.) Why this is done is unclear; perhaps it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s simply annoying to both the other characters and the audience. And it’s apparently just supposed to be the actual voice of the character, not some affectation… so why they didn’t just let Ireland use her natural voice, which is still light enough to be used for the “her voice is high pitched” gag if they really insisted on keeping it in there, but isn’t nearly as grating.
Of course, the film is hampered by the fact that although it purports to be a spoof of Journey the Center of the Earth it doesn’t really do much spoofing, at least not in the sense of attempting to make fun of the concept or attempting to make a significant amount of jokes. Most of the movie is actually played straight. This could have been all right — certainly it’s a concept with some mileage in it — but as Ireland isn’t very good at acting, and most of her co-stars aren’t exactly A-listers either, it falls flat as a serious film, and the action sequences are too anemic and incoherent to be of interest. There’s just not much here to warrant actually watching the film.
In a way, the film’s only actual strength is in the plot, which — while needing some tweaking here and there — is actually passable for a sci-fi B-movie. When Wanda gets word that her father (Richard Haines) has apparently died in an expedition, she travels to Africa to find out what happened to him, and falls into the same “bottomless” pit that claimed him. There she discovers that his theory — that mankind evolved from aliens who came here in a crashed spaceship that became Atlantis that then sank beneath the surface of the Earth — was entirely correct, as she now finds herself on the outskirts of the underground city, with evidence that her father is still alive and is somewhere in the city.
She befriends a miner named Gus (William R. Moses), and makes her way into the city, but there is a lot of danger in Atlantis for an “alien” from L.A. Although she gets some help from a local professor (Lochner De Kock) and a thief named Charmin’ (Thom Matthews), she finds herself hunted in the city as an outsider. A street rat called Shank (Janet Du Plessis) captures her and sells her to a mob boss (Deep Roy), and at the same time alerts the city government to her existence. This creates a conflict among the advisors, with the pacifist Crassus (Simon Poland) wanting to release the aliens to the surface, and General Rykov (De Plessis, again) wanting to summarily execute them as spies. There’s enough of a concept here to potentially make a good movie out of this plot… it just needed a re-write for some smoother transitions, some more depth of character, better dialogue….
This is a film that should only be checked out if you’re really curious about how bad it can be. It was apparently a selection for Mystery Science Theater 3000 at one point, so that might be a way to get some more laughs out of it than the movie itself offered. By itself, though, this is a “spoof” that isn’t very funny, a science-fiction film that isn’t particularly well-written nor well-acted, and an action movie that has pretty tepid action. Scary thing is, there appears to have been a sequel, simply titled Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Addendum: more than four years after this review was written, I received a DMCA notice regarding one of the pictures in the review; the notice was brought by Kathy Ireland’s attorneys. As I have no interest in pursuing a fight over a throwaway blog post on such a minor, unimportant, and above all terrible movie, I’ve removed the images. This is not, however, to be taken as an acknowledgement of the legality of the claim, as the use of the images would fit the textbook definition of “fair use” and, at any rate, it is highly doubtful that Kathy Ireland’s attorneys would have had the legal standing for the claim in the first place, as the copyright of the movie — and therefore the image — is owned by MGM, not Kathy Ireland. I write this note only to explain any writing oddities caused by the absence of the pictures while leaving the captions, and to observe that Ms. Ireland’s lawyers are apparently no better at practicing law than she was at acting.