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MOVIE REVIEW : Wacky 'Alien' Is Tender and Down to Earth

December 08, 1988|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"My Stepmother Is an Alien" (opening Friday citywide) is a wild and wacky romantic comedy, rowdy and brash yet surprisingly tender. Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger match up like Laurel and Hardy: Big, bulky Aykroyd is the perfect comic foil for the sexy, madcap Basinger.

Aykroyd is a workaholic scientist who taps into the energy generated by a thunder-and-lightning storm to send a radar signal that, unknown to him, zaps a planet in another galaxy, causing a gravity drain. The authorities on that planet dispatch Basinger post-haste, via flying saucer, to get their planet recharged within 24 hours.

Director Richard Benjamin and his four writers throw away this scientific mumbo jumbo just as soon as Basinger lands and heads for a party that Aykroyd is attending only at the insistence of his playboy brother (Jon Lovitz).

Much of the film's humor derives from Basinger's hastily prepared backgrounding on humans and their ways; right off, she confuses an hors d'oeuvre with a cigarette, trying to eat a cigarette stub and to smoke a carrot.

But Basinger's Celeste is so alluring and amusing in her seemingly Carole Lombard-like screwball antics that Aykroyd's long-widowed Dr. Steve Mills, who hasn't had a date since March, 1986, is swiftly smitten. So much so that by the next morning Celeste and Steve are exchanging "I do's."

Never mind that Aykroyd's alert 13-year-old daughter (Alyson Hannigan) finds it a bit perplexing that her new stepmother seems addicted to battery fluid and eats D-cell batteries as if they were Tootsie Rolls.

It's touching to watch Steve, who knows he's scarcely a Playgirl centerfold, falling head over heels in love with a creature as gorgeous as Celeste--just as it is to see Celeste gradually acquire humanity. (Of course, we're told that life on her planet is boringly perfect, as it usually is in movie fantasy.) Celeste therefore has a unique perspective on Steve, fully appreciating him as an unusually good and loving man. But what of her mission and her mandate to return home the next day?

With such potent intergalactic chemistry between Celeste and Steve and such a genuine aura of sweetness and considerable ingenious humor going for the film, it's too bad that Benjamin didn't try for a lighter touch instead of the slam-bam, drive-home-the-yocks of "The Money Pit."

To be sure, there's lots of special-effects gags, generated mainly by the odd creature that Celeste keeps in her magic purse as a kind of portable encyclopedia on humanity. It's great fun to watch Celeste learning about kissing, peeking over Aykroyd's shoulder at a video history of the subject. But when we move on to sex itself, the film gets needlessly crass, earning its PG-13 rating.

Even so, "My Stepmother Is an Alien" is solid, wide-appeal holiday fare. It makes the best use of Aykroyd's warmth and proven talents in quite some time, and it does even more for Basinger, showing that she can be as funny and smart as she is sexy.

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