There’s a certain level of expectation built into a Sci-Fi Channel Original Film. One tunes into expecting — nay, hoping — to see laughably incoherent plots, full of holes and aping, in a cheap, made-for-TV way, some cheap, made-for-the-big-screen SF flick; ridiculously bad FX, replete with awful bluescreening and obvious CGI that some 19-year-old geek would have been creating for fun for his friend’s Atom Film if he weren’t being ludicrously overpaid to do the same for this production; and plenty of cheesy acting, perhaps (hopefully) by beautiful, half-naked people, though these (the half-naked people) will be mostly of the female variety, because few on the entertainment assembly line seem to have realized that straight women (and gay men, presumably, though they are a smaller demographic) actually like seeing beautiful half-naked men as much as straight men (and, presumably, gay women, though they are an even smaller demographic) like seeing beautiful, half-naked women. Though this may also be a result of the fact that most smart women, particularly the kind who enjoy SF, would prefer to see a fully clothed man who’s a clever, funny smartass than a half-naked man who’s beautiful and stupid (as those half-naked women tend to be).
I’m not as far off my point as you may suspect.
So, one expects a certain level of enjoyable, drinking-contest-worthy badness from a Sci-Fi Channel Original, and it’s a kind of badness that it would never occur to you could be beaten. Movies don’t come any worse than Sci-Fi Channel Originals, right? This is a fundamental tenet upon which modern geekiness is built.
Oh, but the Sci-Fi Channel lowers the bar on itself with Alien Apocalypse, which didn’t seem likely after Mansquito, but there we are. And who’da thunk that Bruce Campbell — geek god, king of the B movie, object of cult worship, and rightly so — would have anything to do with a bad movie that’s actually, you know, bad? I mean really bad, in a way that makes your jaw drop, like you can’t believe you’re seeing this, like you can’t believe those hilariously awful promos were actually misleading, like you’re for damn sure that Bruce Campbell did not say, “Those bounty hunters are fags, I can get past ’em.”
Oh my god, can Bruce Campbell (Spider-Man 2, Bubba Ho-Tep) really have been this desperate? I can understand being loyal to your friends, to your coworkers — this comes from director Josh Becker, a veteran of the Sam Raimi/Rob Tapert cabal and a director on Campbell’s awful-yet-appealing short-lived TV series Jack of All Trades; Becker wrote the script, such as it is, with Tapert (you know, of Xena and Hercules infamy). But that kind of friendship is the kind in which you should be able to take your pal aside and say, Look, pal, I love ya like a brother and all, but this is the shittiest script I’ve ever read, and you know the kind of stinkers that show up in my in-box.
There are two possibilities for the level of extreme terribleness that characterizes Alien Apocalypse. One is that Becker and Tapert were trying to be serious, and failed miserably. (Their resumes and the presence of Campbell would seem to belie this.) The other possibility is that they were trying to be funny, and failed even worse. Ho boy. Maybe they’re trying to satirize bad SF/action movies with the pretty-but-stupid girl who’s wearing nothing but a leather bikini while everyone else (of the male persuasion, anyway) is covered head to toe (including one guy who looks like he’s wearing those fake sherpa car-seat covers). And with the one black guy who dies in the opening moments of the film — you know, like how the black guy always dies prematurely in these things. But they just don’t do these things well.
I mean, forget scientific plausibility — I wasn’t looking for that going in, I wasn’t surprised not to find it, and I’m willing to forgive a cheesy sci-fi movie its premise that alien termite creatures would invade Earth because they want our forests. “I guess their planet don’t have no wood,” says one toothless old slave (the humans have been turned into the alien termite creatures’ slave workforce, of course). I mean, Earth ain’t got no xiumgethum, but you don’t see us invading other planets to get it, but maybe that’s because we just don’t know yet how incredibly awesome xiumgethum is. So the movie gets a pass on that.
And okay, it is pretty hilarious to see the alien termite things biting the heads off human slaves because that’s their favorite delicacy (besides wood). But there’s no reason at all for the awful, awful wigs and fake facial hair on the human slaves (except the half-naked girl, who must have a hidden stash of razor blades somewhere, she’s so smooth and hairless). There’s no reason at all why the former president of the United States (Peter Jason: Surviving Christmas, Seabiscuit) and the assorted cabinet members and senators who survived the Alien Apocalypse — which occurred twenty years earlier — should still look like they must have looked the week after the Alien Apocalypse, a bit unkempt, unshaven, their business suits dirty and torn, shell-shocked, but otherwise entirely unlike they have just lived rough for two decades?
These are jokes, right? Someone please tell me these are jokes, even if they tanked in a wretched, torturous way that makes you despair for geeks everywhere? *sob*
But wait. Surely, there is no reason why any character — much less Campbell’s astronaut Dr. Ivan Hood, who returns to Earth twenty years after the invasion from a long-term, cryo-sleep space mission to lead the zombielike humans in rebellion against their new alien overlords — should say anything like “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!,” the 1840 presidential campaign slogan that no one remembers except nerds who paid attention in seventh-grade social studies. That can’t be yet another hopeless attempt at a joke, something for all us real nerds, not like the pretenders who make up most of the Sci-Fi Channel’s audience. Can it? *sob*
I’m trying, see? I’m trying to figure out how I can interpret Alien Apocalypse in a way that will let me continue to hold Bruce Campbell in such high regard, he being one of those smart, clever, funny wiseass guys that geek girls like me are desperately in love with. But why o why would there be nothing for him to do here except look like he’s in pain, while all the rest of the awful cast was obviously given sedatives? If Becker and Tapert were somehow able to shame or embarrass or blackmail their old friend into appearing in this stinker-of-stinkers, couldn’t they at least have given him something to dull the sting of the last shreds of his dignity being flayed away?