Friday, April 29, 2011

Kickassia (2010)

Thanks to the Internet's potential as a creative outlet, countless scores of people have used it as a resource to let their voices be heard. Whether it's through artwork, music, writing, or uploading things on YouTube, the Internet remains a safe haven for creative expression.

Many have carved niches for themselves by critiquing pop culture. Reviews of movies and TV shows, comic books, video games, music... they're all over the Internet. While some (such as myself, for instance) take to written reviews, others set up shop as video reviewers. They're a dime a dozen, but one of the more popular ones that I've encountered is Doug Walker, who has made a name for himself online as "That Guy with the Glasses."

It was on YouTube where Walker got his start, making humorous edits of famous movies that he called "5 Second Movies." He would develop a broader following when he created "The Nostalgia Critic" in 2007, a following that would grow further in the following year once Walker left YouTube for his own website and sparked a (fictional) feud between the Nostalgia Critic and James Rolfe's popular character, The Angry Video Game Nerd.

Walker's site has since blossomed, featuring not just his own work but content from dozens of other people from around the world. While many of them assembled in 2009 to celebrate the site's first anniversary and bring the Critic/Nerd feud to its conclusion, it was the site's second anniversary celebration that we're here to discuss today. A group of some of the site's more popular contributors reunited for Kickassia, a six-part movie that was posted episodically on ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com last May and released on DVD a few months after that. With the site having reached its third anniversary earlier this month, I thought I'd take a look back at Kickassia and see how it turned out.

In the Nevada desert, not far from the town of Dayton, is a micronation known as Molossia. Sitting on roughly one acre of land, it is proudly ruled by its president and founder, Kevin Baugh (playing himself). Molossia's existence has recently come to the attention of the Nostalgia Critic (Walker), who fosters a great desire to have an entire country all for himself. When Baugh refuses to hand over control to the Critic after being politely asked, the Critic decides that if diplomacy won't work, hostility will. He assembles a small army out of a few of his website's personalities — among them The Nostalgia Chick (Lindsay Ellis), Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug), Spoony (Noah Antwiler), Angry Joe (Joe Vargas), and The Cinema Snob (Brad Jones) — and stages an invasion of Molossia.

The invasion is a successful one; Baugh is deposed, and the Critic renames the country "Kickassia" upon installing himself as its new head of state. As the TGWTG.com crew begins establishing their roles in the Kickassian infrastructure, the Critic makes the bold decision to retain Baugh's alter ego, the mysterious Baron Fritz Von Baugh, as a holdover from the previous government to ease the transition from Molossia to Kickassia. Baugh uses this position to his advantage, sowing the seeds of discord in an attempt to turn the TGWTG crew against their insanely egotistical leader.

Kickassia isn't for general audiences. I say that because you won't completely understand it unless you're a regular visitor of the site. The movie is full of callbacks and running jokes that only the most absolutely devoted fans of the various TGWTG.com personalities will get. And really, I think the cast and crew would probably be the first ones to come out and say that it's only for their fans. But as a fan, I thought it was quite entertaining. It's not a perfect movie, nor was it meant to be. But it's a fun exercise in silliness from a bunch of amateur actors who wanted to entertain their followers.

Walker not only stars in Kickassia, but is its writer and director as well. As a director, Walker's work isn't bad at all. It's obvious he was working with a miniscule budget (I'd be surprised if more than a thousand bucks went into production) and that the movie was shot on a top-of-the-line camcorder. But Walker finds a way to make it work. I mean, when you consider the micro-budget productions that comprise most (if not all) of the videos on TGWTG.com, Kickassia could be called some pretty top-shelf stuff in comparison. I'm actually a little impressed that Walker and his merry band of nerds actually got this thing made. There are a few instances of some really good cinematography (courtesy of Walker's brother Rob), and the movie's episodic nature allows Walker a way to hid any sort of pacing issues that might have arisen if it had not been there.

His script, on the other hand, is hit or miss. While Walker's script contains a ton of jokes that are solely for the fans (mainly callbacks to running gags or things in past reviews the site's contributors have done), it still has more than enough bits to make it worthwhile. The whole thing is silliness of the most amusing variety, even though it has its share of lulls. Not everything works, but then I doubt everything can. A pudgy guy running around dressed as Gerard Butler's character from 300, with muscles drawn on his chest with a Sharpie isn't really that funny. More than a couple of scenes wear out their welcome yet keep dragging on. There are so many characters and so little character development that it's hard to actually give a crap about most of the people in the movie. And those callbacks are abundant to the point that they feel like they're completely dominating the movie. If I wanted that kind of stuff, I'd go watch Family Guy instead.

The one thing about the script that I disliked the most, though, is how the Nostalgia Chick becomes a parody of Sarah Palin after being installed as Kickassia's vice president. This is just my own personal sense of humor talking, but I've never found Sarah Palin jokes funny. They weren't funny in 2008, they weren't funny when Kickassia was released, and they still aren't funny now. And she's too easy a target to boot. Palin has practically been a walking, talking joke since she first came to fame, and I don't think there's any real humor to be found in Kickassia's parody of her.

But let's move along to the cast, most of whom I liked a lot. I can't say I'm familiar with everyone in the movie, since I only follow a handful of the website's personalities. And I can't say everyone is worth talking about, since some of them have roles so minor that they're practically glorified extras. But what I can say is that pretty much everybody in front of the camera is over the top. They probably could have changed the title to Hammy Acting: The Movie and nothing would have been different.

But let's try breaking this down to Kickassia's major players, starting with the star of the show, Walker himself. The megalomaniacal glee he puts into the Nostalgia Critic is really funny, making him one of the most entertaining parts of the movie. The same can be said for Noah Antwiler, who appears in a dual role as his Spoony persona and his mad scientist character, Doctor Insano. Antwiler plays the Spoony parts with a heaping helping of cheesy melodrama, while as Insano, he practically goes beyond chewing the scenery to outright eating it. Antwiler is a hell of a lot of fun here, no doubt about it.

I also got a kick out of Lewis Lovhaug and Joe Vargas, and there are some funny moments from Phelan Porteous ("Phelous") and Kaylyn Dicksion ("MarzGurl"). But I thought the best acting came from Brad Jones as his "Cinema Snob" character. Jones actually has some legitimate talent, no joke. His dry wit is something different in a movie built on a foundation of madcap insanity, and I can't praise him enough.

There are a few less-than-stellar performances, though. Matthew Buck ("Film Brain") came off as annoying, and Lindsay Ellis is wasted doing that crappy Palin parody. And Kevin Baugh isn't that great, but it's forgivable since he isn't an actor or performer. At least he tries, and he does provide a few quite humorous moments, so that's something.

As for Kickassia as a whole, it should please the diehard fans. But as its own beast separated from its ties to TGWTG.com, it's mediocre at best. There are plenty of worthwhile moments, but the movie isn't a lot. Perhaps the site's third anniversary celebration will prove better when it's actually posted on TGWTG.com, but the second anniversary celebration is just okay. Thus, I'm giving Kickassia two and a half stars on the scale. And for saying's sake, yes, I would still totally move to Kickassia if it were a real country.

Final Rating: **½

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scream 2 (1997)

When it was released in 1996, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's Scream was met with box office success and a ton of critical acclaim. It sparked a renaissance of the slasher movie style during the second half of the '90s, simultaneously birthing a number of self-aware horror movies that were all released in its wake. So of course Scream just had to have a sequel. And true to the '80s slasher movies it was slyly lampooning, Scream 2 was released one year to the month after its predecessor. And, well, it's okay. Not great, not awful, just... okay. Let's check it out and see why that is.

It's been two years since the events of the first movie, and in that time, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) wrote a bestselling book about the murders. The book was actually so successful that as Scream 2 begins, we learn that it has been adapted into a slasher movie called "Stab."

But while Gale is a sudden celebrity, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is merely trying to live a trouble-free life. She's a college student, has a new circle of friends, and has a boyfriend (Jerry O'Connell) who's head over heels in love with her.

Sidney's fortunes soon take a downward turn, however, as someone else has assumed the "Ghostface" gimmick. Two people are killed at a sneak preview of Stab, and more bodies start piling up around the college, all of them with names similar to the victims in Woodsboro. Sidney realizes that not only is the killer copycatting Woodsboro's killer, but that he's ultimately coming for her and her friends.

I honestly can't say that I thought Scream 2 was a wholly bad movie. But my problem with it is that it felt like it was just more of the same. That can work in favor of some sequels, but it didn't for Scream 2. It just made me feel like I could have been watching the first movie instead. That's a ream shame, too. Scream 2 could have been a lot better, but it simply is what it is.

But that's not to say that it's all bad. For example, Wes Craven contributes some fine direction. There are some moments that feel very plain, but Craven's work is really good for the most part. He manages to craft a few very tense scenes, particularly Sarah Michelle Gellar's big scene and the bit where Sidney things Ghostface may be hiding among the masked actors on stage as she practices for a play she's in. These two moments are very effective, and though there aren't many scenes like them during the movie, they're evidence that even in mediocre movies Craven can still show a little brilliance.

However, Kevin Williamson's script isn't as good. It doesn't have the same intelligence as the first movie; I instead got the impression that Williamson was focused more on creating red herrings and potential suspects among the characters. There's no story and precious little character development, and the whole thing just feels lazy. But I'm more than willing to bet that it's probably due to all the rewrites Williamson had to put the script through while the movie was shooting. The final script he'd handed in before production started ended up being leaked onto the Internet and spoiled the whole thing, thus necessitating changes to make the movie what it is today. This really hurt the movie, since the script they had to use feels rushed, of inferior quality, and just dumb.

And the acting is something of a mixed bag as well. Some of it's good, some of it's disappointing. Among the good is Neve Campbell, who I thought was very sweet and very likable. Campbell's one of the strongest parts of the whole Scream saga, and her performance saves Scream 2 from being just another lame horror sequel.

The same can be said of Jerry O'Connell and Timothy Olyphant, who are a lot of fun here. They're funny, charming, and practically steal every scene they're in. Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy are also amusing, playing their roles exactly as well as they did in the first movie.

But there are some bad performances, mainly in the form of Laurie Metcalf and Elise Neal. Neal is unimpressive, stuck playing the stereotypical "sassy black girl" role. They really could have just cast anyone to play the part, and I guess it was Neal that got the job. Metcalf, on the other hand, is more annoying than anything else. But considering I found her equally irritating on Roseanne, I can't say I'm shocked.

I know that most sequels don't live up to their predecessors, but Scream 2 was especially disappointing. With better writing and a less-rushed production schedule, it could have been a more worthy follow-up to a great original. It's unfortunate that it turned out that way because I really wanted to like Scream 2. Instead, I'm sort of ambivalent to it. And I can't give it anything other than two and a half stars. And I actually want to see that Stab movie. I mean, Robert Rodriguez directing what's essentially a remake of Scream with Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, and Heather Graham replacing Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, and Drew Barrymore? Sounds like it could be fun.

Final Rating: **½

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

In my review of Alien 3, I wrote that I was curious why the third and fourth chapters in the Alien franchise were not as heralded as the first two. And in watching them, I figured out why. Alien 3 is thoroughly mediocre due to terrible writing, and Alien: Resurrection is... well, it's bad. It's not overwhelmingly terrible, but yeah, Alien: Resurrection could have been a million times better. So let's jump into it and see why that is.

Two hundred years after the death of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), scientists aboard the scientific research vessel USM Auriga have succeeded in creating a viable clone of her. The sole purpose for this clone's existence is so that they may harvest the Alien embryo inside her, which they plan to use to create biological weapons. But they opt to keep her alive for further study after she proves herself different from the other previous attempts at cloning Ripley. Instead of being a deformed freak like the others, this clone has enhanced physical abilities (and acidic blood) due to the presence of Alien DNA in her creation, and has retained all of her progenitor's memories.

A ship full of mercenaries arrives shortly thereafter, delivering a cargo of kidnapped humans for the scientists to experiment on. This ends up leading to a big problem, as the Aliens the scientists have bred quickly mature and run loose aboard the ship. And because the Auriga's default emergency command is to return to Earth, the incident could have far more disastrous results. It is up to Ripley and a small group of survivors to eliminate the Alien threat before it can unleash hell upon Earth.

Alien: Resurrection could have been awesome. But it's sadly less than impressive. The problem with it is that it doesn't have the same extraordinary feel of its predecessors. It feels like it was made in order to score a quick buck off the Alien name. That's the really sad part; Alien: Resurrection has a number of good elements, but is ultimately an unremarkable whole.

The movie was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a French filmmaker whose biggest career highlight would probably be the 2001 movie Amélie. His direction here is actually quite striking at times, as he brings a very artistic approach to the movie. This is especially evident in how he uses the fantastic set design and Darius Khondji's absolutely gorgeous cinematography to build a movie that at least looks like it should fit into the franchise. Some of the digital effects occasionally look fake to the point of being distracting, but it's nothing that can't be overlooked in the long run.

While Alien: Resurrection is a movie that could have easily been made by any up-and-coming music video director, and Jeunet's work before or since doesn't seem to make him the right guy for the job, he still gives it a decent go. However, if there's one knock against him, it's that he drops the gritty tone of the previous three movies and makes this one a standard cyberpunk action movie. If he had stuck with what worked in the predecessors, the movie might have been better received. The worst part of it, though, comes in the form of an incredibly goofy chestburster scene. The way it's filmed and performed, it reminded me of the scene from Troma's Class of Nuke 'Em High where a nerdy kid flips out after drinking some toxic water and starts kicking the crap out of people before diving out a window. And when you're getting compared to a Troma movie, you've got some room for improvement.

Greater flaws are to be found, however, in the screenplay written by Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon that created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And if I may say so, his script for Alien: Resurrection is total crap. The characters are bland and one-dimensional, the plot is nothing we haven't seen before, and the attempts at witty one-liners are embarrassing.

And outside of the whole "Ripley's a clone" deal, there isn't a bit of originality to be found. It's just the same old thing that the first three movies did. That's probably the biggest reason nobody gives a crap about this movie. It's so bad that it turns Alien: Resurrection into one of those sequels you can skip and still feel like you aren't missing anything. And I'm fairly convinced that Whedon needs to stay away from movies. With the exception of the original Toy Story, pretty much every movie he's worked on has either bombed or been terrible. He'd better not screw around with the Avengers movie next year, or else he's gonna have a bunch of angry fanboys kicking down his door.

And as for the acting, it's a mixed bag. The best performance comes from, as you might expect, the one and only Sigourney Weaver. Once again, she's nothing short of awesome. I imagine getting into Ripley's head had to be tough for Weaver this time around, since the whole clone thing pretty much threw all of the characterization from the first three movies right out the window. Weaver plays this new Ripley as cold and emotionless yet still tortured over her "relationship" with the Aliens. She comes across like she actually was built in a laboratory for the role.

Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast is forgettable with a few exceptions. One is Brad Dourif, who appears in a handful of scenes as a scientist seemingly obsessed with the Aliens. He's awesome as always, yet I can't say I've ever been disappointed with his work. I also liked Dan Hedeya and Michael Wincott in their limited roles, and I felt that J.E. Freeman was hammy to the point of chewing the scenery. Ron Perlman puts forth a fun performance as one of the mercenaries, playing the character as cool and composed yet hilariously tactless at the same time. The only actor who comes across as actively bad is Winona Ryder. I generally like Ryder's work, but she feels stiff in the role, like she isn't sure how to approach it. She isn't a bit convincing, which is sad because the character could have been a really cool one had Ryder's acting been better.

Alien: Resurrection could have been awesome. It honestly could have been. But thanks to a crappy script and the good parts of the movie not being used to their full potential, we end up with a movie that's sub-mediocre. The sad part is that it killed the franchise dead. And even if you count the two Alien vs. Predator movies as sequels, they're so bad that you'll wish the franchise was still dead. I personally have no problem pretending that the Alien saga ended in with the second one, but that's just me. Thus, I'm going to give Alien: Resurrection two stars on the typical scale. It makes me wish I had a time machine, so I could go back in time and try to make sure this movie didn't suck.

Final Rating: **

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream (1996)

As the '80s came to a close, so did what was termed "the Golden Age of slasher movies." While they were still around during the first half of the '90s, they weren't as successful or as prevalent as they were in the decade prior. The entire genre itself was suffering from lowered box office returns at the time. But things changed when legendary horror auteur Wes Craven teamed up with Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson to make Scream. A deconstruction of slasher movies, Scream reinvigorated not only the very genre it set out to mock, but horror as a whole. It spawned movies like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, made a ton of money at the box office, and was actually greeted fairly warmly by professional movie critics. And as a fan of horror movies, I can tell you that Scream is one of the best of the '90s.

Welcome to Woodsboro, a small California town that is rocked when two high school students are brutally murdered by someone in a cheap Halloween costume. Their classmate, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), is hit especially hard by the tragedy, as it occurred close to the one-year anniversary of her mother's rape and murder. She soon receives a phone call from the killer (the voice of Roger L. Jackson), who taunts Sidney before breaking into her house and attacking her.

Circumstantial evidence seemingly points at her boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). But when Sidney gets a second call from the killer that Billy couldn't possibly have made, she begins to doubt herself. Things aren't helped by the presence of Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), an aggressive tabloid TV reporter who starts harassing Sidney in hopes of digging up some dirt. Gale had had previously written a book that implied the man sent to prison for Sidney's mother's murder was really innocent and essentially accused Sidney of being a liar, so the bad blood between them only gets worse. But this is only compounded by the killer's continued stalking of Sidney and her friends, the body count steadily rising as time goes on.

My "horror movie fan" credibility could take a knock for admitting this (depending on who you ask), but I'm gonna say it anyway: I think Scream is an awesome flick. Watching it nowadays, you can see that the production is very much a product of the mid-'90s. But it still holds up as a great horror flick even fifteen years after its initial release. Yeah, it has a few cracks in its veneer that have appeared over the last decade and a half, most of which is due to advances in phone technology. But it doesn't stop Scream from being one of the best contributions to the genre to come out of the '90s.

It's also one of the last truly good movies to be directed by Wes Craven. The guy is a horror legend, but the vast majority his output since Scream was released hasn't been all that good. Cursed sucked, My Soul To Take bombed, and most of the movies he's credited as either writer or producer on have been mediocre at best. But Scream, on the other hand, is some of his best work. Craven perfectly balances the horror with the wit and humor that its script brings to the table.

This is most readily apparent in the movie's opening sequence. It starts innocently enough, with a pretty teenage girl (played by Drew Barrymore, which I assume was a bit of stunt casting meant to invoke memories of Janet Leigh in Psycho) answering a phone call from someone who's dialed a wrong number. The caller keeps calling back, eventually striking up a conversation. But the calls quickly evolve from seemingly flirtatious to creepy to threatening. The caller is soon forcing her to answer horror movie trivia questions, which will result in the painful and bloody demises of her and her boyfriend if she answers incorrectly. While the scene does owe a little to the first twenty minutes of When A Stranger Calls, it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Craven uses the scene to say that it's all fun and games until somebody gets gutted out on the back porch, and he does so in a genuinely frightening way.

But Craven doesn't burn out early. He keeps the ball rolling steadily for the entirety of Scream's 111-minute running time. The scenes between the terror set pieces are fun and amusing, and the horror scenes are tense and suspenseful. One of the best moments is a scene where David Arquette's character enters a house in search of the killer. It's a short scene, but it's a spooky moment, especially how Craven handles it. The scene is one long Steadicam shot, following Arquette through the first floor of the house. And instead of being set to a piece of music, Craven perfectly uses audio from John Carpenter's Halloween to set the mood. The moment only lasts maybe twenty or thirty seconds, but it works incredibly well.

Craven also benefits from having a great screenplay to work from. Scream marked the first of four movies Kevin Williamson would write for Craven, and while he would go on to achieve greater fame for Dawson's Creek, he was an unproven commodity in 1996. Scream was his first big project, and I think he pulled it off excellently. What Williamson did with Scream was deconstruct every notable slasher movie trope and cliché and put them back together again, only with a wit and aplomb that most slasher movies don't have. Not once does it come across as a mean-spirited like the Scary Movie franchise. Instead, Williamson brings intelligence to it. He actually manages to subvert those tropes and clichés while playing them straight at the same time.

Williamson's script is essentially a breath of fresh air for a genre that had become stale and stagnant. Good slasher movies had practically died with the '80s, leaving us with movies like The Dentist and Dr. Giggles during the first half of the '90s. But Williamson wrote something that was not only a damn fine horror movie in its own right, but is smart to the point of self-awareness. There aren't too many intelligent slasher movies to begin with, but Scream's self-awareness allows Williamson to write both a parody of and a love letter to the great slasher flicks of the '80s.

This brings us to the cast, which — unlike other slasher movies — boasts actors with actual talent. As good as Craven's direction and Williamson's writing are, they'd have been out of luck with even a mediocre group of actors. But they managed to score big with a cast that was on their A-game for the entire flick. Playing the lead role is Neve Campbell, who was hired due to her work on Party of Five. (And really, Scream was the movie that started the trend of horror movies hiring actors from popular teen-oriented TV shows.) Campbell is wonderful in the role, giving Sidney both a certain sweetness and the vulnerability that the character needed in order to be a credible heroine. Had she appeared in more horror movies beyond the Scream sequels, Campbell would have made a great "Scream Queen."

I also really enjoyed David Arquette and Courteney Cox. Their characters couldn't be more different, as Arquette plays a cop who is a genuinely nice guy and Cox plays a stone cold bitch who'd send her own mother up the river for a story. But both Cox and Arquette play their roles with an energy that makes both of them really endearing in their own ways. We also get a good performance from Skeet Ulrich, who has a real "early Johnny Depp" vibe about him. Ulrich is no Johnny Depp, that's for sure, but he does have a striking presence that makes him worth watching.

And since Scream boasts some comedic elements, it's also got some comic relief. That comes to us courtesy from Jamie Kennedy. I thought Kennedy's performance was give or take; there were some scenes where I wanted to hit him. But that's just the way it goes with comic relief sometimes.

But my favorite performances came from Matthew Lillard and Roger L. Jackson. I thought Lillard was a lot funnier than Kennedy, and that he was nothing short of amusing every second he's on the screen. Jackson, meanwhile, actually has one of the most important roles in the movie, despite never showing his face on camera. He gives the killer a feeling of malice even when he's trying to convince his victims he's trying to be friendly. Jackson's performance is one of the true highlights of the movie, and Scream would have been poorer without him.

I don't care what anybody says; Scream is a terrific horror movie. Its impact may have been diluted somewhat over the years due to the knockoffs, wannabes, and various other genre deconstructions and reconstructions that have been released in its wake. But that doesn't stop the movie from being a fun, frightening flick from start to finish. Movies like Adam Green's Hatchet, ones that tout themselves as the next big slasher success story, wish they were only half as good as Scream. And on the usual scale, it's going to get four stars and a proud recommendation. And with Scream 4 being released today, here's hoping it can live up to the original.

Final Rating: ****

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alien 3 (1992)

Of all the classic sci-fi movies that have been released over the years, Alien and its sequel are two of my all-time favorites. Alien and Aliens are legitimately two of the best movies I've ever seen, and the acclaim and success they've achieved over the years have actually caused some people to overlook that there were actually two more sequels in the franchise. One of them, Alien 3, is the movie we're here to discuss today. It's been a long time since I've seen it, but now that I've got the opportunity thanks to Netflix, I'm going to see if I can figure out why it doesn't get the same kind of recognition as its two predecessors.

When we last left Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), she and three others had barely survived the Alien's rampage aboard the Sulaco. But an accident aboard the ship causes the Sulaco to crash, Ripley emerging as the only survivor. She awakens to find that she'd crashed on Fiorina 161, an ore refinery and maximum security prison colony with an all-male population. Many of the prisoners live a monastic lifestyle and have taken a vow of celibacy, and Ripley's status as the sole woman on the planet threatens to disrupt their way of life.

But having a woman around will be the least of their worries. As Ripley begins investigating what caused the Sulaco's crash, she learns that some Alien facehuggers had stowed away on the ship. They've now gotten loose and are running free throughout the prison. Ripley tries rallying the other prisoners into fighting, but finds that Fiorina 161 has no weapons. And things are only compounded when she makes the horrifying discovery that she herself is carrying the embryo of an Alien queen inside her.

While I went into this review wondering why Alien 3 was not cherished as its predecessors were. And having watched it a few times now, I think it's because the movie doesn't really bring anything new to the franchise. Outside of a change in setting and a different supporting cast, Alien 3 feels like more of the same. I ended up with a "been there, done that" feeling by the end of the movie, which is a really sad thing to say.

Believe it or not, Alien 3 was the feature film debut of David Fincher. Yes, the same David Fincher that directed such movies as Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button, and The Social Network. But while Fincher is a respected and acclaimed filmmaker in 2011, he was just another music video/commercial director in 1992. And for his debut, he was left in an unenviable position. Fincher had the project essentially dropped into his lap at the last minute after it had spent years in developmental hell, leaving him with little prep time and a script that hadn't been finalized. Throw in tons of executive meddling, and it's understandable why he quit before the movie's editing had been finished.

Fincher shows signs of the talented filmmaker he would become, managing to make a watchable movie out of a less-than-stellar script. Fincher puts Alex Thomson's cinematography and Elliot Goldenthal's music to good use, teaming them with the gritty set design to create a tense atmosphere that really sets the mood for the whole movie. Alien 3 doesn't have a lot going for it, but Fincher manages to pull together every element at his disposal to make sure the movie doesn't completely suck.

It doesn't help, however, that Fincher is working from a piss-poor script. Though the script is credited to David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson from a story by Vincent Ward, writing duties were passed around among numerous writers during the movie's development. Fincher himself even contributed to the writing process. With all these cooks in the kitchen, all it gives us is a really mediocre screenplay. The fact that Hicks and Newt from Aliens were killed off (before the movie even started, no less) and Bishop was relegated to a short cameo is bad enough. But the story is so week that it ultimately makes the whole movie boring. Outside of the ending, it adds absolutely nothing to the Alien franchise. The dialogue is forgettable and many of the characters aren't worth the screen time, so it all just feels like a waste. I know it must have been intimidating trying to match the first two Alien movies, but couldn't they have at least tried?

At least the cast tries making the most of it. Among the supporting cast, I really liked Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Dutton plays his character as jaded and hard-edged yet likable too, while Dance is charming and sympathetic. I also thought that Brian Glovers was great as Fiorina 161's warden. The role is basically the stereotypically abrasive "nothing's wrong, everything is A-OK" type of authority figure, a character that's a dime a dozen. But Glovers pulls it off without it ever feeling old or worn out.

But as always with the Alien franchise, the best performance comes from Sigourney Weaver. She plays Ripley as a woman who has been pushed to the end of her rope. Ripley's seen her third Alien massacre with no real reprieve between them, and then she finds out she's carrying an Alien queen's embryo inside her to boot. That would be enough to drive any person crazy. Ripley's awfully close to crazy indeed, but Weaver plays her as so worn out and battered from her wars with the Aliens that she's too tired to be crazy. Weaver is nothing short of awesome as Ripley, and if Fox ever decided to remake or reboot Alien, I doubt that anyone would ever be able to top her.

Alien 3 isn't a bad movie, but it is most certainly a disappointing one. A lot of it is that it was way too hard to live up to the precedents set by Ridley Scott and James Cameron. But then there's the fact that the movie is just plain okay. It's neither a good movie nor a bad movie; it's just kinda there. It's a total let down from start to finish. But I mist confess that it does have its moments of glory, which is enough for me to give Alien 3 three stars on the usual scale. It's definitely worth a watch if you want to see the whole franchise. But I won't fault you if you want to stick with just Alien and Aliens.

Final Rating: ***