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‘My Stepmother Is an Alien’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 09, 1988

"My Stepmother Is an Alien," the new Richard Benjamin film starring Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger, is "E.T." with hormones, a landlocked "Splash." No, that actually sounds like fun. And it would be wrong to suggest that this thing is fun.

Very wrong.

Watching this picture, you feel the same bored impatience that you feel when listening to a joke told by someone who has never told a good one in his life. It's a comedy by the comedy-impaired.

Events are set in motion when the radio signal sent out to distant stars by a rather socially backward physicist named Mills (Dan Aykroyd) gets a power boost, sending it faster than the speed of light to a point far outside the galaxy. In response, the inhabitants of the planet that received the transmission dispatch their chief extragalactic probus -- Earth-name Celeste (Kim Basinger). Her mission is to find the man who sent the beam their way and have him send it again while the stars are properly aligned or else their planet will be destroyed.

Aliens must think like studio execs, because Celeste -- who hops out of her spaceship in the vicinity of a party thrown by Mills' wastrel brother, Ron (Jon Lovitz) -- is decked out in a shrink-wrapped shocking red mini with a matching hat, all the better to lure the secrets out of the scientist. And she certainly makes an impression. Within minutes, she pops a cigarette butt into her mouth as an hors d'oeuvre, executes a series of back flips and throws a glass of champagne in her host's face.

Celeste's ignorance of Earth customs is the film's primary source of comedy, as it was for the mermaid character in "Splash." But the level of the gags in "Stepmother" is woefully low, and it has none of that earlier film's gawky sweetness. The picture's showcase bit, in which Celeste attempts to seduce the love-starved Mills, is its only passable riff, primarily because it features Basinger's considerable skills as a physical comedian. Some kissing is obviously required, but the concept is foreign to her. Looking for help, she turns to her handbag, which dispenses advice on these and other pressing matters, and which projects into the thin air a sort of filmed essay on the art of smooching, from Bogie and Bergman in "Casablanca" to the Three Stooges.

Watching Basinger, you feel alternately charmed by and embarrassed for her. She's ripe for the camera and shows a genuine feel for comedy, but even though her character is supposed to possess superior intelligence, all she's playing is another bimbo role. Seeing her costumed in one scanty, diaphanous outfit after another -- and watching her perform a crude striptease -- you can't help feeling that she's being exploited in the coarsest manner possible.

Nor do she and Aykroyd complement each other. Aykroyd is a highly specialized sort of sketch performer -- he's great at deranged eggheads and monomaniacs -- and he functions reasonably well as a supporting player (as in "Ghostbusters"), but as a comic lead, he's a plodder. There's nothing distinctive about him, and in "Stepmother" he can't seem to pull off either his physical or his verbal gags with any flair.

At times -- such as when Aykroyd is wrestling with the handbag (which has this one-eyed "thing" inside it) -- the material takes on an almost surrealistic quality, but Benjamin can't create the proper tone. As a result, the actors just seem pained as they try to bring off their scenes. They press too hard (Lovitz presses the hardest) and to little or no avail. The film invokes the spirit of Jimmy Durante, who in a sort of indirect way saves Earth from obliteration. Wish he could have done the same for the movie.

"My Stepmother Is an Alien" contains some adult material, seminudity and Freudian symbolism.

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