Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), Kim Basinger (The Nice Guys) and Jon Lovitz (Southland Tales) star in a fish-out-of-water comedy with a sci-fi twist that questions whether a romance between two star-crossed lovers who are literally worlds apart can ever work.
When widowed astronomer Steve Mills (Aykroyd) inadvertently causes a gravitational disruption in deep space, a race of hyper-advanced alien lifeforms sends one of their own to investigate, disguised in the alluring human form of Celeste (Basinger). Tasked with seducing the lovelorn Steve in a bid to gain access to his scientific research, Celeste finds herself falling for the man she’s been sent to swindle. But they’ve reckoned without Steve’s young daughter Jessie (Alyson Hannigan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who’s none too thrilled by the prospect of a new mother – especially not one from another planet.
The story goes that the initial script versions of My Stepmother is an Alien were more serious. Certainly it spent a few years in development hell, so perhaps it could have been something like Species or Under The Skin. An alien remake of Splash at least. Nah, let’s call a spade a spade; with a plot that can be boiled down to, “marry me, lonely earthling, or my planet will die”, I’m betting this movie was destined for a top shelf, a plain cover and a disapproving frown from the Blockbuster manager.
Arrow have released grungier, less ironic titles with more plot than that. Alien Celeste (Kim Basinger, introduced by a stocking-clad leg, no less) is even shown a porn scene by her handbag-dwelling one-eyed snake assistant to learn how to seduce hapless scientist Dan Ackroyd. Come on, who are you kidding?
But before we consign it to the grubby sub-genre likes of Frankenhooker, most of the film’s stock is actually held in the sweet relationship between Ackroyd’s widower and his daughter, and Jimmy Durante references. Director Richard Benjamin used classic entertainer Durante as a touchstone for pure happiness. It’s hard to be too cynical, if you can get by the casual misogyny. The film is pretty weak, but icky male fantasy premise aside, it’s pulling in a soft-hearted direction.
For a start, Batman-era Basinger is great. I suppose getting the star of 9½ Weeks was an obvious hook, but she handles it on her terms nonetheless. Unguarded, funny and refusing to be merely exploited, she brings a lot of energy to what could have been a one-note role. She works hard too not to be a third wheel, because the film is at its best between Ackroyd’s widower and Alyson Hannigan as his teenage daughter.
It was Hannigan’s debut and you can see the confidence she would bring to Buffy and American Pie (friend and Buffy co-star Seth Green pops up too). She plays really well off Ackroyd, who’s largely being the straight man. He’s at least giving the part its due, even if it feels like the same Ghostbusters routine. Jon Lovitz is doing his usual SNL shtick and largely surplus to requirements.
My Stepmother is an Alien is not very good, let down by an under-powered Splash-lite premise that no-one could be bothered to develop. But it is a fun diversion. Very silly, with a decent laugh quota and a dollop of sentiment. It was a flop, because of an ambitious Christmas release against Twins and an awkwardly smutty edge. Probably the reason for a 15 certificate, unbecoming of an otherwise childish romantic comedy. Otherwise, it’s harmless thanks to a strong cast and last minute found-some-budget CGI. It can claim to have revitalised Tom Jones’ career too. No, really.
Before Ackroyd got involved, or someone spotted potential to retool it as typical of the mainstream Ghostbusters era, it could have been a very different film. As it is, no-one has missed it for 33 years, but kudos to Arrow for dusting it off and adding a couple of thorough extra features. It’ll raise a smile.
- Cosmetic Encounters: Directing My Stepmother is an Alien. Interview with director Richard Benjamin. It’s a tiny film but he’s nothing but cheerful enthusiasm.
- Audio Commentary with Bryan Reesman. Not attached to the film, but it’s a fun stream of trivia. It’s equal value to the film itself.