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‘MAC and Me’ (PG)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 13, 1988

Stop me if you've seen this one before: Cuddly little alien gets stranded on Earth but slowly reveals himself to a bunch of kids living with single moms in spacious suburban tracts, who then befriend him and hide him from all adults, including grim-visaged scientists who probably want to cut him up when all he wants to do is go home. Anyone for another alien tag chase through those rolling hills, substituting a wheelchair for a bicycle, or an alien-in-disguise-in-public scene?

In fact, "MAC and Me" could just as well have been called "O.T. -- The Other Terrestrial," so frequent and clumsy are its references to "E.T." Forget about calling home; E.T., call lawyer.

"MAC and Me" doesn't start out that badly. On some odd planet that looks like Death Valley, an idyllic afternoon finds a typical family unit out for a picnic, just relaxing and sipping sweet underground nectar through crystal straws. There is an odd poetry to these creatures' gangly, languid, elastic movements, a suggestion of spiritual innocence defiled when an American space probe touches down and inadvertently sucks them up through a vacuum tube. Deposited on Earth, they quickly escape the lab and discover they are truly strangers in a strange land -- they're in California.

And they're not the only ones. Concurrently, young Eric (Jade Calegory), his brother (Jonathan Ward) and his mother (Christine Ebersole) have moved west from Illinois. After becoming separated from his family, the little alien sneaks into their van, and don't you know, is about to sneak into their lives.

Confined to a wheelchair, Eric is nonetheless mobile and active, but no one takes him seriously when he says he's seen E.T., I mean MAC (for Mysterious Alien Creature, presumably because Alien Life Force has already been taken). There are assorted encounters, adventures, misadventures and escapes, during which the bonds between MAC and Eric grow strong, and eventually MAC is reunited with his family, and at the end . . . well, it's kind of cute.

So why is it so hard to like this film? Having seen it done so much better by Spielberg doesn't help, of course. Director and cowriter Stewart Raffill adds another undistinguished credit to his resume, alongside "The Adventures of the Wilderness Family" and "The Ice Pirates." Alan Silvestri's score is the worst mix of ersatz Jerry Goldsmith and schlock pop tunes, and the acting is pretty weak, though the filmmakers get good marks for using Calegory, a real-life disabled 11-year-old who brings a healthy authenticity to his role. And the mechanized puppet playing little MAC is cute as can be, with big, expressive eyes and an ALF-ish spirit, though he doesn't talk, just whistles and purrs.

No, what's really disturbing are the commercial implications of "MAC and Me." On the one hand, there's the omnipresence of Coca-Cola, which turns out to be the only earthly substitute for the sweet syrup the MACs used to sip on Iapedus (wonder if that was Classic or the new stuff). Not only is Coke what the kids drink, it's what saves the lives of the MACs just as they're about to die. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Then there's McDonald's. One of the characters works there . . . a long and absolutely ridiculous intergalactic breakdancing party takes place there (and so what if it looks like a reunion of the "Fame" kids)

. . . Ronald McDonald appears on screen . . . and there's something familiar about that little alien's acronym. It turns out producer R.J. Louis was once an account executive for a California advertising agency handling guess what major account? Is there something wrong with this picture? Yes, there is.

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