Friday, April 8, 2011

Firing Blanks: "Alien Arsenal" (1999)

David DeCoteau directs under yet another pseudonym in this cheap sci-fier that cannot coast on its likable cast alone.

Josh Hammond is Ralph, your typical high school nerd. The film opens with him being chased around by some blonde hunks, all of whom act and look the same. Ralph's best friend is the cute tomboy Baxter, played by Danielle Hoover.

Ralph and Baxter happen upon a mysterious bricked-up room in the basement of their high school. They open it, and discover sophisticated alien weaponry inside. They loot the joint, taking everything with them. The opening of the room sends a signal to a spacecraft, and three aliens assume human form, come to Earth, and investigate the arsenal's entry.

Meanwhile, Ralph begins getting a little alien weaponry-mad and starts dispatching all the guys who picked on him, sending them into an alternate dimension with the shot of a small gun. He fancies himself a superhero, and starts wearing the alien armor in public. The three aliens hire one of the bullies to work for them, outfitting him in the same type of weapons and armor. Baxter and Ralph then must battle the aliens, who plan on eliminating the planet using the same room the arsenal was in.

If anything, the young cast here is attractive and fun to watch. Hoover is cute as can be, and Hammond plays Ralph well as both a nerd, and later a confident stud. DeCoteau's (or Julian Breen's) direction makes the most of the obviously limited budget. The special effects are computer video based, but have a nice, colorful quality to them that makes them interesting. The screenplay, however, has large enough holes to maneuver the Death Star through. How come the aliens can receive an intergalactic message from Earth that the arsenal was opened, yet have no idea where in the school it is located? Who walled up the arsenal in the basement in the first place? If the arsenal is so important to the aliens' destructive plans, why didn't they come open it themselves? The finale pads itself by having Ralph and Baxter wandering around the school looking for the aliens, when it is really obvious they are back in the arsenal. Are Ralph and Baxter orphans? I thought there might be some entertaining scenes as the parents watched the duo become super heroes thanks to the alien power, but moms and dads are not even mentioned.

One subplot, where the pair convince an athlete to turn into a nerd is painfully unfunny. The only real adult who scores laughs is Brenda Blondell, who plays the history teacher Mrs. O'Houlihan. Her obsessions with obscure nineteenth century American treaties and pacts is a riot.

The film is so laid back it becomes innocuous in its delivery. There are a few curse words here and there, but the script feels slightly altered as to not offend anyone, especially when you have students using guns in school in this post-Columbine age.
 
"Alien Arsenal" is not the worst film you will ever see, but it might be one of the most forgettable.  (* *) out of five stars.