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*batteries not included (1987)

A single dilapidated brownstone stands in a wasteland that used to be 8th Street, New York, its tenants under pressure from capitalists and thugs to sell out and make way for a tower block. And then a pair of frisbee-sized flying saucers arrive, perhaps in answer to the prayers of diner chef Frank Riley (Hume Cronyn), and start fixing things. The lady flying saucer (!) is pregnant (!?) and gives births to triplets (ú?@*&$%!!), one of which is still-born and has to be jazzed up by an ex-prizefighter janitor. In addition to seeing off the property developers, the saucers cheer up a pregnant Hispanic (Elizabeth Peña), an unfashionable artist (Frank McRae) and Frank's daffy wife Faye (Jessica Tandy). But, the head baddie calls in the local arsonist, and things start looking bad again ... Like Bigfoot and the Hendersons, this Steven Spielberg-produced slice of whimsy (originally intended as an episode of his half-hour Amazing Stories TV show) is a by-the-numbers re-assembly of the ingredients of E.T. Again, we have superb special effects in the service of a sugary comedy / soap opera of the kind Uncle Walt used to make (The Love Bug, Blackbeard's Ghost), and a vision of the world that brooks no problems so deep they can't be solved with a smile and some childish sense of wonder. In this case, one particularly objects to the trivialisation of Faye's senility, and the credibility gap is exacerbated by the fact that the script makes absolutely no connection between the deus ex machina spaceships and the troubles of their earthly friends. As with Cocoon, it's a shame that such terrific senior citizen players as Cronyn and Tandy are stuck with such unrewarding material, but they do manage to put it over with a conviction unmatched by the rest of the cast. There's a nice big band score by James Horner, though.

First Published In: City Limits (issue not known)

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