The b-movie has had a precipitous decline over the years. Once made for theaters, they became the domain of straight-to-video producers in the mid-1980’s, beginning a slow steady fade that reflected the decline of the home video market. Today, they are primarily the domain of basic cable channels, playing theaters only in foreign countries if they are lucky. Consequently, the modern b-movie doesn’t have to try too hard: since they no longer have to compete with Hollywood films at the multiplex, these films are usually content to hit the basic necessary content marks (monsters/aliens, blood, action) until they’ve filled the allotted screen time.
Alien Opponent is a typical example of the cable t.v. b-movie in action. It was produced for the Chiller channel and made by effects guys and cable channel employees looking to get a leg up in the filmmaking world. The plot they put together is a marketing-friendly rehash of basic trash sci-fi concepts: a spaceship crash-lands in a junkyard just after the owner has been killed by Rita (Hilma Fakowski), the mother of the owner’s gold-digging wife Meghan (Ashley Bates). Oh, and Meghan is also sleeping with the owner’s dim-witted son, Bradan (Cuyle Culvin). They need to get the owner’s body to claim his estate but the spaceship and its resident robots block the way.
Thus, the schemers hatch a plan to realize their scheme without getting their hands dirty. They hold an open call for mercenaries and adventure seekers, offering a prize of $100,000 for whoever can take down the robots and bring back the owner’s body. The expected ragbag of ambitious types who respond include con-man sleazeball Brooklyn (Jeremy London), priest Father Melluzzo (Roddy Piper) and kick-boxing stripper Linnea (Adrienne LaValley). Cue an array of splat-stick gags as the robots and the bounty hunters clash and the bodies begin to pile up.
Add a little inspiration and some storytelling skills and this formula plot could result in a fun little diversion. Unfortunately, most everyone involved in Alien Opponent either couldn’t or didn’t know how to make this formula fresh. John Doolan’s script is an overcomplicated mess, cramming in too many characters and subplots while rarely paying any off them off in a satisfying way. Instead, he trots out an array of clichéd characters and forced attempts at witty dialogue that progressively get more annoying as the film continues. Worst of all, Doolan treats everything as a joke and makes most of his characters unpleasant and/or dumb so there is never a reason for the audience to get involved in what’s going on.
Director Colin Theys obviously put a lot of work into this – in addition to directing he also had a hand in the cinematography, editing and visual effects – but perhaps he spread himself too thin. As a result, his work is technically solid but creatively vacant: the first act drags and remainder of the film is too episodic, collapsing into a series of scattershot setpieces that never build momentum. There doesn’t seem to be any ambition driving his work beyond getting a technically proficient film completed on a low budget, resulting in a film that has an indifferent quality.
The final and perhaps worst problem for Alien Opponent is the acting. It looks like Theys was content to let his actors do what they want as long as they played their roles broadly. Thus, most of the cast goes over the top as they do similar variations of the “rural idiot” stereotype in their performances, with hick accents that fade in and out for some performers (Bates) while others don’t even bother with them (Falkowski). LaValley’s psycho tough chick posturing is acceptable but utterly familiar, Culvin plays his slow-witted stereotype in a dull manner and London knows he’s in a bad film so he’s content to cruise through it in low-energy mode. The only good performance comes from Piper, who is wasted an underwritten role (we never find out why a priest is getting mixed up in this mess). He’s the only member of the cast who underplays the clichés and his work is likely to make you wish he was in better movies.
To sum up, Alien Opponent is the kind of uninspired t.v. time filler that the b-movie has become. It’s got plenty of energy but it all goes in the wrong directions, pandering to the lowest common denominator as it goes through the motions in a way that is obnoxious and underwhelming all at once.