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Television Review

'Allen Strange' Makes Rocky Journey to TV Movie Format

December 04, 1999|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bigger isn't always better. Nickelodeon's popular live-action sci-fi series, "The Journey of Allen Strange," about a kid alien stranded on Earth in the guise of a teenager, works because its half-hour format and modest structure allows its strengths--a bit of heart, adolescent vulnerability and a dash of special effects fun--to compensate for cipher adults and simplistic execution.

The series' first TV movie spinoff, "The Journey of Allen Strange: Alien Vacation," written by series creator Tommy Lynch and directed by Paul Hoen, magnifies the flaws and assumes that in a show about an alien, you can dispense with reality altogether.

Allen Strange (Arjay Smith), trying to find a way home, learns that a mysterious archeological dig in the Middle East may hold the key.

He doesn't expect that his decision to go there will change the summer vacation plans of his two human pals, Robbie (Erin Dean) and Josh (Shane Sweet).

So, how do three kids make their way to the Middle East? Allen has special powers, but he stows away in the luggage compartment of a plane bound for the Middle East. Then Robbie joins him just before takeoff, dressed as an airport employee. How'd she find him? How'd she get the uniform? Where's airport security? Who knows?

They survive the altitude and emerge decked out in perfectly fitting Arab garb, escape gun-toting guards and hop a bus. No food, no water, no money, no shelter, no compass, no fear. Ahead, lies a 40-mile walk in the desert with warring nomadic tribes, and a handsome prince who falls for Robbie. Everyone speaks English.

Meanwhile, it's supposed to be amusing that mouthy computer whiz Josh hijacks a radio personality, blackmails him and uses his credit card to get to the tomb site. (Former Second City comic Eugene Levy is wasted as Bellerman Arthur, who hosts a show about UFOs and government conspiracies, a la AM radio's Art Bell.)

The dialogue between the characters leans heavily toward hermetic bickering and attitude; prerequisite moments of Robbie and Allen's mutual affection and vulnerability seem forced into the mix.

* "The Journey of Allen Strange: Alien Vacation" can be seen tonight at 8 on Nickelodeon; it repeats Sunday, 4 p.m. The network has rated it TV-Y (suitable for all children).

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