In these bygone classics, the youngsters weren’t only seated in the audience. For so very much of the action, they occupied the front and the center of the silver screen! Features like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extraterrestrial certainly set the bar high; its tale of a young boy befriending a galactically displaced alien botanist warmed hearts around the world, so – as can happen in Hollywood – studios and storytellers were quick in their attempts to recreate box office magic. Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter (1984) saw a trailer park teen being chosen for his video game playing skills to save the universe from an interstellar evil. Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story (1984) explored one young man’s trip into high Fantasy when he’s transported elsewhere by the magic of a good book. Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985) employed a group of young adventurers for a cinematic quest of their own fortune and glory. Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future (1985) saw Marty McFly accidentally taking a spin back in time – in a souped-up DeLorean – to save both himself and his family from … well … small town boredom, mostly.
There are more titles, but I’ll leave it at that as I think you catch my drift. No longer were children sidelined as secondary characters playing back-up to adults in the pursuit of making dreams come true. They were the heroes, suiting up and swashbuckling their way into every imaginable corner; and, yes, I’d agree that it made for some wondrously wholesome escapism for kids and their parents alike. Many of these films survive even to this day, and they continue to earn new fans through classic theatrical screenings, anniversary airings in cinemas and television, and the ongoing fan conventions taking place around the world. Some have had sequels. Some have not. But they’re still part of an enduring phenomenon that’s worth your time.
For what it’s worth, the short review of Kids Vs. Aliens – a 2022 entry written (in part) and directed by Jason Eisener – feels like it’s trying to be part of that limited universe. Like so many of those earlier pictures, it focuses almost exclusively on its squad of young heroes – a group of budding filmmakers (and wrestlers) whose very existence gets threatened when aliens show their presence and power in their tiny oceanside village. However, it’s vastly darker and more subversive than anything Spielberg, Castle, Petersen, Donner, and Zemeckis ever would’ve allowed in their flicks.
And each and every one of the young actors swears like a veteran sailor. Incessantly.
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“An all-time rager of a teen house party turns to terror when aliens attack, forcing two warring siblings to band together to survive the night.”
I’d be remiss in my duties as a film reviewer, budding screen historian, and social media influencer if I failed to mention that staging a genre film during a teenage rage isn’t all that original. In fact, 2013’s +1 (from IFC Midnight) covers some of the same premise, and it did so with much less swearing, violence, and general debauchery. From what I can recall, all of its principal players were of high school and/or college aged, and Kids Vs. Aliens does benefit from employing some foul-mouthed yet still plucky youngsters battling both their teenage adversaries and some invading aliens in its mostly carnival ride of thrills once the party’s started (pun intended).
Where I’ll likely diverge from the popular sentiment here is that – for my tastes – these kids were just too cynical.
Eisener and John Davies’ script elects to make them almost wry observers of the world: they’re only young on the outside, and – on the inside – they’re your average sardonic adult who’s already figured out the wide, wide world out there ain’t pretty. Living with mostly absent parents, they’ve grown up much too quickly and made pandemonium the norm. Gone was the wide-eyed optimism that helped lift so many features from the 1980’s; even when those children were confronted by obvious adversity, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and soldiered on because – well – what other choice did they really have? But these kids? Well, these foul-mouthed urchins really spend a bit too much of their screen time on the run, never quite rising up against the narrative status quo and almost universally needing to be rescued repeatedly by Samantha (played by Phoebe Rex), the film’s true bright spot here.
In fact, I might argue that the lion’s share of the picture’s dialogue feels like it was made up on-the-fly. There’s absolutely no nuance to any of it. Lines come and go, sometimes sloppily delivered if not hard to hear. There’s the occasional youth-flavored quip here and there, but it’s all laced with so much colorful profanity and general looseness I wondered if something said was actually written down on the page or were the actors and actresses merely given some circumstances, a bit of light context, and told to ‘go with it.’ Still, Samantha does develop a repartee that might make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush (in the second half), so I suppose I should be thankful for small favors.
Setting aside some narrative shortcomings and the general lack of characterization, I’ll admit to still having some fun with Kids Vs. Aliens.
In one respect, it’s hard not to. Watching this level of gleeful adolescence onscreen can certainly foster up a sense of nostalgia, but that’s only going to happen if the audience is understandably old enough to have already established that fondness for the days gone by. Playfulness has that affect on those of us with some mileage under our belts. Younger viewers? Well, they might revel in the demonstrated shenanigans; I’ve no way to judge the film on those merits, however. I’d like to think that they’d know when they were in “over their heads” and understood when it was time to seek some parental guidance and/or authorities. Their world spirals out of control once the alien invasion – incursion? – is under way, and I know that I and my friends wouldn’t have just rolled with the punches. I’ll insist that once the first of my friends had been turned to a pile of fleshy goo compliments of the alien acid, me and my mates would’ve been heading for the hills, as we used to say.
Recommended, but …
Mostly – and I do mean mostly – Kids Vs. Aliens is the kind of thing that an adult might enjoy as it kinda/sorta harkens back to cinema’s golden days of E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982), The Last Starfighter (1984), The Goonies (1985), and The Monster Squad (1987) … though with vastly – and I do mean vastly – greater profanity. And I suppose in small ways that’s reasonably true. I just thought it was much darker and not nearly as well made as its predecessors. Also – and this might just be a minor gripe – I’ve grown really tired of films that are produced and left so wide open to call for an obvious sequel: what happened to the days when – like those listed above – films were completed with just a single, entertaining story? Sigh. You kids get off my lawn.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJE Entertainment and Shudder Films provided me with complimentary streaming access to Kids Vs. Aliens (2022) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.