Question: when is a science-fiction movie not a science-fiction movie? Based their 2014 short film, The Bag Man, this is Jonathan and Josh Baker’s big-screen directorial debut, but their script was turned over to first-time screenwriter Daniel Casey. Was that a smart move, giving their story to a complete nobody? Let’s see…
It’s the depressed ‘burb’s of Detroit and 14-year-old Elijah Solinski (Myles Truitt) has been suspended from school for fighting. His hard-working and serious adoptive father, Hal (Dennis Quaid) tries to instill in his son a sense of truth, value, and morals, despite the conditions they live in. This comes especially hard when Elijah’s jail-bird brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor) finally gets out of prison. But things are about to get weird when the kid finds a rifle during his usual scrounging around abandoned buildings. But this rifle ain’t no ordinary firearm! Apparently it was left over from a fierce fire-fight between some intergalactic soldiers.
The super-cool gun ‘pairs’ itself to Elijah and, thinking it’s some neat looking toy, takes it home to play with. Meanwhile, trouble rears its ugly head when Jimmy’s old gangster boss, Taylor Balik (James Franco), demands his protection money from him. Fearing for his life, Jimmy decides to rob his dad’s place of business, but things go very, very bad. With revenge on his mind, Taylor and his merciless gang go after Jimmy, but he hightails for Lake Tahoe with Elijah. On the road, they meet up with a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold named Milly (Zoe Kravitz), and together they form an usual dysfunctional family.
Oh, did I mention that two of those intergalactic soldiers return to get that space gun back? Well, they do and they’re hot on Elijah’s trail along with homicidal Taylor and his pistol-packin’ thugs. All hell breaks loose in a small county jail when the soldiers, the gang, and the FBI converge. And that space gun? Oh yeah, almost forgot about that! From time to time Elijah whips that bad boy out to blow a hole through a wall or take out some bad guys. Pretty cool stuff. The rest of the time, however, you have a character study of brothers, relationships, and finding oneself.
Surprisingly, this is NOT one of those slam-bang, shoot ’em up, kill ’em all and let God sort them out kinda of cheap movies that you’d see on the SyFy Channel at 2am. Newbie writer Casey (who also did only short films) follows a basic ho-hum story formula and pads the plot out for feature-length film (The Bag Man ran a short 15 minutes). Result? It gets a little long in the tooth at times, but it does posses a genuine nice quality with real dialogue that isn’t dumbed-down or written like some fan-fiction with explosions and gruesome deaths every five minutes. I’ll give ’em this much; the Baker bros. know a thing or two about directing.
Another plus is the stellar cast starting with Myles Truitt, an exceptional young man who never crosses the line into ‘kiddie’ territory. He’s genuine and has a real gift for acting natural, as does Jack Reynor, who looks like a young Chris Pratt. Reynor’s performance doesn’t go for the obvious schlock, but gives depth and focus. Dennis Quaid is the veteran actor who is just perfect and James Franco plays it, well, Franco playing it creepy here. All in all, not the sort of family/road trip/sci-fi film I was expecting, but one that had a nice groove to it with a twisty end to boot.
MST3K had a blast riffing on this extremely low-budget and horribly acted movie that came out a year after Star Wars, about a young man that comes into possession of an alien bazooka-like weapon that he uses to exact revenge on his enemies. The best thing about this film? The two stop-motion animated aliens!
We begin with a prologue of sorts: a green-skinned teenager is killed by two shell-less turtle-like aliens in the middle of the desert. Distracted, they depart in their spaceship, accidentally leaving behind a laser cannon and a metallic pendant that powers the device. Meanwhile, bored and angst-riddled teenager Billy Duncan (Kim Milford) is having a very bad day: his mother is leaving for vacation… again, his girlfriend’s deranged grandfather, Colonel Farley (Keenan Wynn) is talking nonsense, he’s harassed by local school bullies Chuck Boran and Froggy (Mike Bobenko and Eddie Deezen), and two inept police deputies (Barry Cutler & Dennis Burkley) give him a speeding ticket.
Ah, but Billy’s life turns upside-down when he finds the alien laser cannon and pendant and learns how to use it. It’s fun at first, blowing stuff up and feeling empowered, but what he doesn’t know is the longer he wears that pendant, the more he becomes a green-skinned creature bent on destruction. He also doesn’t know those pesky aliens have received word from ‘high command’ to go back to Earth and get that weapon back! But while Billy goes to the doctor (OMG, is that really Roddy McDowell??), his girlfriend Kathy (Cheryl Smith) is becoming increasingly concerned about Billy’s sinister attitude.
And Kathy should be concerned, because Billy (under the pendant’s influence) goes on a killing spree: the bullies, the doctor, the idiot cops, and anyone else who stands in his way… even an advertisement sign for the movie Star Wars! Finally, an alien shows up to zap Billy to death and, well, you figure out the ending ’cause nobody else can. Rife with bad acting, low-budget sets, and actor Eddie Deezen’s outrageously over-the-top screen debut, this movie was written by Frank Ray Perelli (The Doberman Gang) and Franne Schaucht (only her second screenplay) like it was a 1970’s high-school film project.
This was Michael Rae’s one and only directorial job, and you can see why. Amateurish at best, I’ve seen YouTube videos shot by 12-year-olds that were better. No structure, bad camera angles, and a cast that didn’t really want to be there in the first place. The only decent acting comes from veteran film actors Wynn and McDowell and, like I said, those stop-motion animated clay aliens, which were done quite well. This film has since gone on to be a cult classic like The Room, and you can watch the terrific Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it with Mike Nelson on YouTube for free!