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'*batteries not included'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 18, 1987

 


Director:
Matthew Robbins
Cast:
Hume Cronyn;
Jessica Tandy;
Frank McRae;
Elizabeth Pena
PG
Parental guidance suggested


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Here's my theory: Steven Spielberg was captured by aliens, brainwashed and forced to become their public relations man. That's why he keeps making or backing the likes of "Batteries Not Included," a bizarre sci-fi fantasy about urban decay and perky aliens. Though directed by Matthew Robbins, it is an Amblin Entertainment feature rooted in the Spielbergian credo: Earthlings cannot cope without the little men upstairs.

In this case, the UFOs are Lilliputian beings, like anthropomorphic pie tins. When hope is lost, they come to the aid of the residents of a New York tenement in a dispute with an unscrupulous real estate developer. Rejected by the preservation society and harassed by urban youths, the holdouts are about to give in when the wee saucers land. They speed through the rubble, pipsqueaks from another planet, batting their baby blue headlights and repairing toasters and things.

Troupers Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn prevail over the hardware, with Tandy especially touching as the silver-haired Faye, happily lost in her own senility. Cronyn is unendingly patient as husband Frank, coping with her delusions as he fights to save their home and the cafe' that's their livelihood.

The developer hires some young thugs to smash up the place, but the aliens make it good as new again by morning. The awestruck tenants pledge to protect the beings, who meanwhile have built a scrap metal nest on the rooftop.

Casting tends to be racist, with Michael Carmine as the Hispanic heavy whose gang smashes Frank's cafe' and sexually intimidates pregnant tenant Marisa, sweetly played by "La Bamba's" Elizabeth Pena. Dennis Boutsakiris costars as the upstairs artist who falls for Marisa, who poses for him while baby aliens (born in an earlier scene) play in his paint pots. They may be only metal, but they are as adorable as humanoids.

Perhaps Spielberg and his pawn Robbins want to implant maternal instincts in the collective consciousness. Or maybe they just can't think of another story. The disenfranchised must look to the stars for salvation. What a strange lesson to teach children -- that they are basically helpless.

Well, "Batteries" is a strange kids' movie, a queer mix of violence and otherworldly benevolence. It might have been a good idea, a story of the vanishing urban neighborhood and gentrification by tycoon. But half-pint aliens to the rescue? It's time E.T. went home. Batteries Not Included, at area theaters, is rated PG.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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