Wednesday, August 8, 2012

B-Movie Review: "Nukie" (1988)

It’s been called the absolute worst “E.T.” rip-off ever made, but is the much-loathed flick anywhere NEAR as bad as its reputed to be?

When I was about 10 or so, I remember renting a little VHS movie called “Nukie.” I wasn’t necessarily enthralled by what I saw, but from what I recollect, it wasn’t all that bad of a motion picture, or at the least, wasn’t the WORST juvenile-oriented movie I had checked out as a kid. The Internet, however, seems to have a very, VERY different perspective on the flick.

A reviewer at Something Awful absolutely loathed the film, stating the he’d rather kill his girlfriend and contract AIDS in a car crash that also kills his best friend than watch the movie again. The guy at X-E, clearly no stranger to craptastic cinema, considered it one of the most annoying films he’d ever seen. The Cinema Snob railed against the flick, and the movie currently has one of the lowest scores on IMDB, pulling in an average user rating of 1.7 out of 10.

A lot of people - and I do mean A LOT OF PEOPLE - seem to hate “Nukie,” and I think that hatred is more than a little perplexing. Sure, it’s not a good movie by any stretch, but is it really that bad of a flick?

My threshold for cinematic suck is pretty much superhuman. I’ve willingly sat through movies that most sane people would chew through their own veins to escape from viewing, films so atrocious and unwatchable that only masochists would even dare pick them up. I’ve seen propaganda about Sarah Palin’s non-existent 2012 presidential run, several infomercials for Alex Jones crazy-ass cult of personality, TWO movies starring the Insane Clown Posse and even a musical featuring the Village People. Trust me, when I say I know cinematic shit, I know me some cinematic shit.

Considering all of the Internet-born clamor over “Nukie,” I decided to rewatch the film, to see if it is anywhere near as awful as its reputed to be. While it’s clearly a bad movie, I still don’t think it’s THAT bad, and if I made a list of the top 1,000 worst movies I’ve ever seen, it wouldn’t even make the shortlist. In fact, it’s actually mildly amusing in short doses, and if nothing else, a really out-there way to kill an hour and a half. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks - and hard - but at the end of the day, it’s a mildly more entertaining kind of suck than you’d expect.

So right off the bat, we're already beginning with the nightmare fodder...

The movie begins with two stars flying out a nebula, passing through meteors and ultimately getting sucked into Earth’s atmosphere. Oh, and the balls of light can talk, and they sound just like characters from “South Park.” If nasally voices irk you…well, you might want to watch the remainder of this movie with the closed captions on.

So, a military command, which is alternately referred to as NASA and “The Space Foundation,” monitors the two crash landings. One of the researchers remarks that if one of them lands, “he will die,” which is squeaked out so drolly that it can’t help but elicit a chuckle from you. So, the UFO alarm goes off, and the NASA guys detect that one of the light balls landed off the coast of Florida, while another landed somewhere in southern Africa. One of the scientists refers to the retrieved alien as a “space baby”…needless to say, the acting in this one is utterly fantastic.

Betcha' didn't know Rachel Maddow was a B-movie regular in the '80s, did you?

The alien that lands in Africa begins wandering around the savannah, screaming “Miko!” over and over again while his companion - now hooked up to all sorts of medical devices in Florida - shouts “Nukie!” a couple of dozen times.

I guess I really don’t have to describe what the alien looks like to you - you have eyes, I suppose - but if I had to sum up the character design in one sentence, I would consider it “a hydrocephalic potato impregnated by Ross Perot’s toxic seed.” While Nukie continues to explore the African hinterland, we jump back to the Space Foundation headquarters, where doppelgangers of Rachel Maddow, James Carville and Carl Weathers continue to examine the other alien creature. One of the scientists tells us that the aliens are “made of pure energy.” As it turns out, beings of pure energy lack the ability to move their mouths, so Nukie and Miko are forced to communicate via that time-honored narrative skeleton key - telepathy.

As you can clearly see, Nukie is quite the expert at pointing at things.

We get a lengthy telepathic communication scene, which is followed up by Nukie harassing some wildebeests and  asking giraffes is they know where “America” is. Nukie’s costume looks like it’s made out of papier-mâché - in fact, you can see bits and pieces of it flaking off throughout the movie. The funny thing is, every time you look at the creature, it reminds you of something new - over the course of five minutes, the damn thing resembled, simultaneously, Golem, The Toxic Avenger and Abobo from “Double Dragon” in my eyes.

We have a brief throwback to the Space Foundation, complete with a way-too-serious, “Dragnet”-ish voiceover from some disembodied narrator. From there, we had back to Africa, where we witness wildlife stock footage and semi-racist depictions of tribal children. Eventually, two locals encounter Nukie and agree to not tell the rest of their tribe about him, concluding the agreement by high-fiving, because that’s something the director must’ve thought all black people do. We cut to the researchers gawping at some Commodore 64 quality visuals on a wall of computers, while Nukie refers to turtles and rhinos as “moving rocks.” The other alien - named “Miko,” in case you somehow missed it - has a dream about what Nukie is actually experiencing in Africa, and then, Nukie teleports to a waterfront. Now that the creature is out in natural lighting, you can kinda’ make out the entire costume - and your guess is as good as mine as to what that giant, mid-pelvis bulge is supposed to be.

I always imagined alien life forms to be made of burlap sacks, too. 

So, Nukie drinks water for the first time, and we’re introduced to a nun, who runs a missionary hospital in the village. While Miko undergoes some more NASA experiments, an earthquake (which really, really looks more like a cyclone, to me) hits the tribesmen and tribeswomen, which results in the villagers breaking into the missionary in a scene that is totally, not at all insensitive or anything. After that, we’re introduced to a chimpanzee character…that CAN TALK. Not only that, but ALL OF THE MONKEY CHARACTERS IN THE FILM CAN TALK. Nukie takes counsel from a baboon (which, for all of the rubles in Russia, sounds just like the voice actor from the Dreamcast cult classic “Seaman”), and he freezes a tribesman that’s just about to shoot him with a bow and arrow. After that, a NASA researcher named Dr. Harvey shows up, and gets a ride to the mission in a cut up car chassis being pulled by a couple of donkeys. Nukie has a chat with the talking chimp from earlier (who, apparently, really likes candy), until a corporal character shows up with a gun and threatens to blow Nukie to kingdom come. Thankfully, Nukie teleports out of harm’s way, just in time to save those two tribal children from earlier from being attacked by a mountain lion.

But seriously...doesn't it kinda' look like Forrest Whittaker

So Nukie - who, for some reason, appears to have grey snot pouring from underneath his nostrils now - makes amigos with the children, while Miko manages to escape from his containment cell and mess around with the Space Foundation’s computer. Call me crazy, but this Miko guy looks JUST like Forrest Whittaker, if you ask me. The thing is, this NASA super computer is apparently a LIVING, SENTIENT THING, with hypnotic powers. Cut to Nukie stealing a helicopter, with the aide of his monkey pal (who, it dawns upon me, sounds like Master Betty from “Kung Pow! Enter the Fist”). Nukie takes the helicopter for a joyride, but crashes the craft shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Miko eventually manages to “hack” the computer system (called E.D.D.I., in a brief scene that sorta’ elaborates on the Space Foundation’s background) to develop human-like sympathies.

E.T. phoned home. Miko preferred to Skype his ass back to his planet of origin. 

After that, we return to Africa, where the leader of the tribe (who’s rocking a pair of Ray-Bans, for whatever reason) declares fatwa on Nukie, whom everybody thinks is some sort of demon or something. Nukie gives away his location by making some ceramic pots filled with water explode, resulting in a brief chase scene that’s sped up, Benny Hill-style. Meanwhile, Dr. Harvey manages to fix the helicopter Nukie crashed…with a wad of bubblegum. No, really.

Back to the Space Foundation headquarters, where the researchers find the computer system that now has a human sense of empathy. Strangely, the scientists seem pretty enthusiastic about this, even if it means there’s no way they can do research with the hardware anymore. Back to Africa, and the two native kids have been EXILED by the tribesmen because they think they brought Nukie into the village. Cue a really, really awkward scene where the nun and Dr. Harvey talk about Catholicism and nativistic religions for  awhile.

Well, if you ever wondered what the Honey Comb Monster would look like fully shaved...

Night falls in the outskirts of town, as Nukie and the exile children reconnect. The alien uses his light beam powers to start a campfire, while the children and Nukie discuss ancestral rituals and some nonsense about twins and stars and stuff. This leads to an absolutely INDESCRIBABLE dance sequence - complete with synth music and fireworks - that you simply have to see to believe:

And so, the kids nod off, while the scientists chat with the sentient computer program, which has apparently fallen in love with one of the researchers. We jump back to Africa, where Nukie possesses a dirt bike “Geist”-style to escape from the villagers. Elsewhere, Miko plays some early dubstep music for the computer terminal, which leads to a lengthy scene in which seizure-inducing video graphics blink across the screen and a NASA representative is mind raped into thinking he’s a circus clown. And then the scientist that looks like Rachel Maddow shows up, and the computer tells her that she sucks. Back to Africa!

We get some heavy handed social commentary as Dr. Harvey and the Nun talk about the “Americanization” of the tribesmen and tribeswomen, with the two pondering whether there’s any difference at all between scientists and witch doctors. One of the kids gets bitten by a cobra, and the doctor, rocking a swank Houston Rockets baseball cap, swoops in for the save. I guess now is a good time to remind you that the actor playing the doctor is none other than Steve Railsback, perhaps best known for being that one guy from “Lifeforce” and a couple of other movies nobody cares about. Shortly thereafter, Nukie gets tranquilized by the corporal and dragged to the mission hospital, while the computer system protests any further experiments on Miko. So, Miko uses the computer to telepathically contact the one kid that wasn’t bitten by a cobra, who teams up with the talking chimpanzee to rescue Nukie from being sold by the corrupt missionary corporal.

Even extra-terrestrial beings know how to do air quotes, apparently...

You know what would make a really fun drinking game for this movie? Get you and your buddies to take a swig every time the words “Space Foundation” are uttered onscreen. Not that it really means anything to anyone ever, but I’m pretty sure the voice actor for the monkey and the computer are the same person. At this point, we’re seeing about a million plot points begin to converge, leading into some subplot overdose. So, we have the kids trying to return from exile, drama with the NASA firm being reordered and restructured, the scientists trying to figure out what to do with Miko and the computer and Nukie is STILL on the lam as the corporal chases after him. Nukie ends up taking a swan dive into a waterfall, and although it’s never explicitly stated, I’m pretty sure Nukie is at least partially allergic to water or something. Somehow, Nukie ends up on a riverbank that’s like eight feet above the river, and he and one of the kids has another lengthy discussion about America.

And remember: one of them is a talking monkey. 

Completely pissing away the last 90 minutes of film, Nukie decides that he and the kid should just turn into light balls and FLY to America, but since Nukie is too sick, they only make it to the Atlantic coastline of Namibia. Just when it looks like Nukie won’t make it, HERE COMES MIKO ON A HELICOPTER! The two embrace, and turn into light balls, and fly off into space. And also, they take the monkey with them. Cue end credits, complete with eerily out-of-place synthesizer music.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the production history of “Nukie.” It began production in 1988, but didn’t see the light of day until Trimark released it on home video in the early 1990s. The film was a joint UK, German and South African production, with filming going on all over southwestern Africa. Two directors are credited with making the flick - Sias Odendal, who apparently vanished off the face of the earth after making the film, and a guy named Michael Pakleppa, who’s been a fixture of the German film industry since the 1970s. If the nun looked familiar, that’s because she’s played by Glynis Johns - an actress that’s probably best known for her appearances on the Adam West “Batman” show, and her role as Molly Shannon’s grandma in “Superstar.”

As you can probably deduce from my description, great cinema this ain’t, but really, how can it even remotely be considered one of the absolute worst of the worst? There’s no way this movie is worse than“Alien Apocalypse,” or “Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla,” or “Mesa of Lost Women,” or “The Corpse Grinders” - and honestly, I’d rather watch this than something like “Red Riding Hood” or “Twilight,” ANY DAY.

It’s undoubtedly a dumb movie, but the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to late 1980s/early 1990s, straight-to-home-video entertainment? It ain’t even close, bud.

Two stars. Jimbo says check it out.


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