Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jason London, Gigi Edgley, Christa Campbell, Lee Horsley, Coby Bell, Jahidi White, Brock Roberts
Directed by C. Roma
Remember that whole Roswell incident? All turns out to have been military misinformation to keep people off the trail of the real alien encounter that took place in Missouri where “the real Area 51” is located. That one line about “the real Area 51” is also the only time the term “Area 51” is ever used in the film and that opening sequence is the only time a showdown takes place on the base. “SHOWDOWN AT SOME RANDOM MILITARY BASE IN MISSOURI WHERE VAGUE TALK OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL RESEARCH GOES ON” was probably just too long a title for the Sci-Fi Channel brass to approve.
Showdown at Area 51 was originally saddled with the moronic title of Alien vs. Alien. Dumb as that sounds, it’s a damn shame they didn’t stick with the film’s original title because then if a sequel ever came about it could have been called Alien vs. Alien: Redundancy.
With a little more budget this Sci-Fi Channel original movie could have achieved the truly delirious heights of a gloriously campy Golan-Globus production of yore, but instead it’ll just have to settle for being a rousing sci-fi smackdown oozing with gobs of melted cheese. That’s good enough for me.
Two brothers, one is named Alex and the other is named Jake. Jake is played by Jason London of “Party of 5” fame. Who plays Alex is unimportant since he’ll be dead soon – the character, I mean. What matters is Alex is in the military and Jake loves beer. The siblings are out on the front lawn engaging in such spirited horseplay that they fail to notice the leftover special effects from a “Stargate SG-1” rerun entering Earth’s atmosphere and engaging in an aerial laser dogfight right above their heads.
Meanwhile, the alarm sounds at the nearby military wildlife refuge; everyone’s on full alert and someone yells, “Where the hell is Alex?” Not sure why Alex is so darn important. Never fear, for Alex is on the way.
One spaceship crashes and the other lands. Out pop two aliens to begin shooting at one another with their ray guns. Their shootout will take them to the heart of the military base where any soldier or MP that gets in their way will fall victim.
We’ll later come to learn that the good alien is named Jude, a Vin Diesel look-a-like with funky pupils and sci-fi tribal tattoos on his face. The actual physical appearance of the evil alien – an “Omega Centurion” named Cronin or something like that – will never be revealed to us.
Good alien Jude is adorned in a black jumpsuit with a single silvery shin guard on the right leg for extra added bad assery. It’s like he wants to send a message to all potential adversaries that he doesn’t care if his costuming has a piece that doesn’t match the color scheme of the rest of it and if he doesn’t care about being fashionably consistent then just imagine what he might be capable of when provoked.
The helmet Jude initially wears looks like a cross between a gas mask and a fencing mask. It almost appears as if the helmet is some sort of cybernetic fly head with an air hose attachment. He can also produce a Captain America shield that quite literally looks like a space age manhole cover.
The hulking Omega Centurion’s attire looks as if a stylist mixed and matched Tuscan Raider and Tie-Fighter pilot fashions to create a whole new look for the hostile alien lifeform on the go. Aside from its trusty laser gun, the Omega Centurion’s favorite weapon of choice is these swanky ninja star-like throwing weapons that can sever limbs. It can also shoot these rocky spikes from its forearms and its body armor can transform it into an armored rolling orb. Is it secretly a Rock Lord inside that outfit, I wonder?
Jude breaks into a base warehouse and steals a metallic rod from a laser grid containment field. The Omega Centurion tries to fight him for it until Alex arrives with more soldiers to challenge the alien intruders. Jude tosses a tiny metal ball device that can disintegrate everything within a certain radius (Someone’s clearly seen The Arrival) in an attempt to kill his rival. Alas, poor Jason London becomes an only child in the process.
Jake trades in his beer for a freshly microwaved Hot Pocket when he hears on the news that something terrible has happened at the “wildlife refuge” his brother works at. How does this concerned brother get into a top secret military base after all hell has broken loose and the place is on indefinite lockdown? He hops a fence, of course. And how does he escape from heavily armed military police escorting him from the base after he’s caught trespassing? A little elbow action to the face, some vigorous shoving, and jacking a jeep is all it takes. A car chase worthy of the finest episode of “18 Wheels of Justice” follows, culminating with Alex shooting out the pursuing jeep’s engine and laughably exclaiming, “Thank you, Playstation!”
Would this be a good time to mention that the character of Jake is himself supposed to be ex-military, someone who has worked on some of the base’s top secret projects? I only bring this up because several circumstances seemed to hinge on what a nimrod Jake is. Jake also struck me as a tad young given the character’s impressive resume. Was Costas Mandylor to busy playing “Jigsaw” to take the role or what?
And rest assured there’s much more cornball dialogue where that came from. A few other notable quotables:
The angry military security chief reacting to news that Jake has escaped barks, “Go find his ass, you pack of geniuses!” A bit later that same angry military chief having figured out where Jake and company is heading begins talking to himself, “Left us a little trail to follow, Little Red Riding Hood. And I am the big bad wolf.”
Now if you think those lines were mind blowers, the real humdingers come out of the mouth of Lee Horsley’s retired military UFO scientist turned Fred Sanford wannabe. I mean the first words out of his mouth will be “Holy crapsticks!” That’s shortly followed by, “Never question a man who owns a junkyard. I’m in touch with the past… like dialing a 1-800 psychic.” Think you’d ever hear Bob Lazar say something that screwy?
The clincher though comes when Alex asks him if he has any guns on the premises. His response: “I may be smart but I’m still a redneck.” I do believe the screenwriter plagiarized that line directly from Harlan Ellison’s original draft of “City on the Edge of Forever”.
The first 15-minutes of Showdown at Area 51 rank amongst the liveliest and most cheesetacular footage the Sci-Fi Channel has ever pulled off in one of their original movies. I was gobsmacked by how much fun this was. The rest of the film is more straightforward but has the schlock factor going for it that only a movie with a straight face gone this corny can achieve.
This is, after all, a movie where an alien warrior will take a woman hostage by shoving her into a very earthly muscle car and speed away.
This is, after all, a movie where Jason London’s heroic character will commit vehicular homicide and yet it’s supposed to be okay because the guy he turned into roadkill was a jerk.
This is, after all, a movie where despite having all these fancy, extraterrestrial, magically protracting weapons at their disposal, whenever these two warring aliens enter into close quarters combat it almost always comes down to the two of them punching and kicking at another as if they’re extras from Roadhouse.
This is that kind of schlocky movie.
Jake needs Alex’s help in finding an obelisk called the “Omega Seed”, a super weapon that looks like a large, glowing, Fisher-Price ring toss and when activated will bring about the extinguishing of all life on Earth allowing the Omega Centurions to waltz right in and plunder what’s left of the planet. Only that rod can be used to switch it off. Problem is Cronin is also after the rod and our heroic, English-speaking, alien protector never bothered to learn how to decipher the glyphs written on the rod revealing the location of the Omega Seed.
Thank goodness Jake happens to have an ex-girlfriend who specializes in linguistics. Truth is this is really just an excuse to introduce a female lead and give Jason London someone to kiss. I suppose they could have had London making out with Jude but that probably would have put an odd spin on things and I’m not sure the world is quite ready for “Brokeback Alien Nation”.
The biggest knock against Showdown at Area 51 in my book is that it suffers from a distinct lack of Hasselhoff. Jason London is no Hoff; the way he plays his character’s determination and moments of stupidity just lack that Hasselhoffian earnestness a b-movie like this desperately needs.
3 1/2 out of 5
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