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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

INALIENABLE -- DVD review by porfle

"From the mind of Walter Koenig", erstwhile Ensign Chekov of the Starship Enterprise, comes INALIENABLE (2009), which starts out as a horror tale of a man who isn't quite sure whether he's carrying a deadly parasite or an alien offspring, and ends up itself resembling the unearthly lovechild of SyFy and Lifetime.

Research scientist Eric Norris (Richard Hatch, a veteran of both versions of "Battlestar Galactica") is trying to discover a cure for AIDS while dealing with the endless guilt caused by the death of his wife and son in a car crash in which he was driving. One day his friend brings him a piece of rock that broke off of an alien wessel--sorry, a meteor--that crashed on his property. Eric wakes up the next day to find that the rock has transformed into a jellyfish-like creature and invaded his body, nestling in a pouch-like protrusion over his left hip and sending tendrils throughout his body which intertwine with his vital organs.

It soon becomes apparent that Eric is "pregnant" with something, and when the FBI finds out about this potential alien threat, he must flee along with a sympathetic coworker, Amanda Mayfield (Courtney Peldon), who has fallen in love with him. After giving birth to the grotesque, tentacled baby (which he christens "Benjamin") in a barn, Eric and his new son are captured and placed under strict observation. Meanwhile, Amanda hooks up with a space-case civil rights lawyer named Ellis (Erick Avari) to help free Eric and allow him to have custody of Benjamin without government interference. This results in a courtroom drama in which Benjamin's humanity, or lack thereof, is in bitter dispute.

INALIENABLE begins with all the elements of early David Cronenberg body horror, but that all changes as soon as the proud dad gets a gander at his new butt-ugly baby with the octopus tentacles and goes all sappy. After that it's all tears and hugs and courtroom intrigue designed to tug at our heartstrings. When Eric and Benjamin are reunited in a holding cell under the watchful eyes of coldhearted government types, their impromptu Charlie Chaplin dance will either make you smile or retch. Most interesting is the battle of wits between the two lawyers over Benjamin's basic "human" rights, bringing to mind similar questions about robot sentience as seen on some of the best episodes of shows like "Star Trek" and "The Outer Limits."

Richard Hatch sells his character convincingly and makes his scenes with Courtney Peldon seem a little lopsided by consistently out-acting her. Koenig, as Eric's boss and eventual enemy (for reasons we discover later on), proves that he's a pretty solid screen presence himself when he isn't having to portray the biggest weenie in Starfleet. Special credit goes to Marina Sirtis for her impressive turn as the queen-bitch prosecutor, a far cry from ST:TNG's compassionate Deanna Troi. Other familiar sci-fi faces pop up here and there throughout the story, including Alan Ruck and Tim Russ (both alumni of different Trek incarnations), Richard Herd, Gary Graham, Jay Acovone, Erick Avari, and longtime sci-fi/horror stalwart and stuntwoman Patricia Tallman ("Babylon 5", "Star Trek", the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake).

Production values are adequate but rather spartan, and Robert Dyke directs without a whole lot of energy. The film is low-key to the point of timidity, as though it were aware that someone was taking a nap in the next room and didn't want to wake them up. Some of the courtroom scenes are undercut by the constant drone of strangely soothing music which seems intent on lulling us to sleep ourselves. Worse, Amanda's first meeting with lawyer Ellis is accompanied by an intrusively whimsical tune that lets us know Ellis is supposed to be a funny character, even though he isn't funny.

The alien SPFX aren't very convincing, although it's nice to see something like this done with animatronics and puppetry rather than cheap CGI for a change. The newborn infant is a nicely-rendered creation that's somewhat reminiscent of the baby in ERASERHEAD. Later, the older Benjamin's makeup makes him look more like an aged midget than a cute little alien child, and the less said about his bobbling tentacles the better. Again, however, Richard Hatch does such a good job of interacting with this weird little gremlin that he manages to give their scenes together a surprising amount of pathos.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround 2.0 and English subtitles. The sole extra is a trailer, but if you zip to the end of the closing credits you get to see Walter Koenig cutting up on the set for about half a minute.

INALIENABLE's heart is in the right place and for the most part it's a fairly absorbing though slow-moving little sci-fi tale. The first half, with its potentially horrific imagery of an unknown alien lifeform incubating inside a human host, would be good fodder for a Cronenberg film or episode of "The X-Files." The second half, though, is a rather listless stroll through KRAMER VS. KRAMER territory with an ending that fails to generate much tension or suspense. All in all, an amiable little flick that I can neither condemn nor recommend with much enthusiasm.

(CORRECTION: We've learned that the previously reported street date of January 19th for INALIENABLE was incorrect. The actual date is January 26, 2010.)

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