To give you a bit of a quick and loose history lesson, let me transport you back to the year 1977: a little road trip comedy by the name of Smokey And The Bandit revved its powerful engines around the world on the silver screen. This seminal flick was the brainchild – in part – of writer/director Hal Needham, a Hollywood stuntman turned storyteller; and he cast hunky screen icon Burt Reynolds opposite the just blooming Sally Fields as an unlikely screen couple who ‘meet on the run’ and, together, just wish to keep on running. Added to the mix was singer-turned-actor Jerry Reed – filling out their comically villainous trio – and their antics inspired a solid handful of sequels. And why wouldn’t it? It’s been reported that – on a budget of under $6 million – the immortal Bandit racked up a mind-boggling $127 million at the box office. That’s quite the return on investment.
Now – having seen this original film many, many, many times (many more than I care to admit in this space) – Hollywood suits thought they could drill deeply into this possible gold mine of modern-day cowboys, Southern belles, bumbling highway patrolmen, and firing engines by following it up with one creative rip-off after another.
Though the silver screen incarnations never really came close to matching Smokey’s southern charm, there were a few small screen attempts worth mentioning. 1978’s B.J. And The Bear rather immediately tried to keep that trend a’truckin’, casting a young and relatively unknown Greg Evigan opposite (yes, you guessed it) a chimpanzee; and their stories saw them getting into all kinds of adventures and misadventures while transporting goods across the United States of America. But it wasn’t ‘til 1979’s The Dukes Of Hazzard came into being that this kind of comic household hospitality came into its own on the boob tube. Dukes pretty much dropped the trucking aspect, instead exploring the homegrown antics of two good ol’ boys and their hotter-than-blazes cousin (in signature cut-off jean shorts) just trying to escape the injustices perpetrated by some of the most incompetent ‘boys in blue’ on a weekly basis.
From what I can see, Dukes lasted on television until 1985 … and that, ultimately, brings me to the year of release for writer/director Phil Smoot’s Alien Outlaw. It’s a feature film that kinda/sorta tried to take what worked best from these somewhat backwoods laughers and give them a somewhat SciFi/Fantasy spin: replacing the often incompetent and bumbling law officers with some gun-toting and apparently sex-starved aliens meant that producers thought they might be rewarded by encouraging a whole new demographic of the audience – namely, SciFi and Fantasy junkies – to embrace this particular brand of lunacy.
Since Outlaw has been mostly forgotten, it’s safe to say that Smoot’s efforts went largely unnoticed … but I’ll try to rectify that – albeit briefly – by giving the picture a bit of face time in the space below.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Aliens land in a small town where Jesse Jamison is about to have a gun show and bullets fly after the aliens start killing people. Watch out Diamond Booking agency for your next momentous event!”
IMDB.com’s synopsis is accurate, but the reference to ‘Diamond Booking Agency’ is what many folks might call bit of ‘inside baseball.’ Basically, what that means is the agency’s citation directly ties into one subplot within the wider storyline, so much so that it’s almost a misdirection. What truly matters in a creation like Alien Outlaw is the main scenario – that of the perfectly fetching Jesse Jamison (played by Kari Anderson) and her battle with the not-so-invading aliens – and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know a B-Movie from a whole in the ground.
And make no mistake: Outlaw is a B-Movie. In fact, it’s probably closer to a C or a D-Movie. In some ways, viewers might even give it an F, though I’d argue that’s a bit harsh. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I got enough laughs from it to make my 90-minute investment worth my time. (Mine’s a low bar, as they say, but that’s my lot in life, too.)
Still, the production is quite probably yet one more title in the explosion of diversions erupting from that great home video boom of the 1980’s. Back in those days, anyone with a camera and a cast of willing conspirators – friends or otherwise – tried his or her hand at securing small screen success, and veteran producer Phil Smoot gave it a whirl. (Ask your parents, kiddies, and maybe you’ll find out that they, too were even in a dirt-cheap effort. What can I say? Maybe even grandma needed the money!) As its producer, this was only Smoot’s third picture; and his IMDB.com page profile shows that he’s still ‘in the business’ even today, three decades after he brought Outlaw down to Earth.
But because this was low budget filmmaking at a time when dollars arguably went a bit further, there’s still not a great deal of investment seen on the screen. Outlaw was obviously spun out of a small-town cauldron, the kind of which probably didn’t even have a community theater with which to tap for acting talent. Its locations are, rather obviously, tiny houses and/or farmhouses in the middle of nowhere; and there are no sprawling vistas tickling the fancy of its alien overlords. Its setting is the Great American Backwoods – one with plenty of trees, a few creeks, and maybe an expansive lake for a few picturesque shots – and it was quite probably shot near and dear to where everyone lived.
Its story is far from extravagant but very well has the kind of elements likely found in any off-the-beaten-path township: local sharp-shooting legend Jesse is trying to shed her skin with an escape to the big leagues – hence the above mention of the Diamond Booking Agency – but when a trio of lecherous and homicidal aliens crash land in the nearby swamp, this lovely lady will gladly strap on her six guns and squeeze into the most wondrously flattering costume imaginable to defend God and country from that scourge from the stars! In her quest to right some not-so-galactic wrongs, she’ll join forces with one hillbilly and/or redneck after another – and she’ll even risk the loss of her own (cough cough) sexual dignity – in her brassy attempt to blow these oxygen-tank-wearing Xenomorphs to Kingdom Come!
(Of course, I exaggerate. So sue me.)
Sigh. Time can be a bitter mistress, my friends.
Still, what Outlaw does have is the attractive Kari Anderson.
Though her acting chops really leave a lot to be desired (and I do mean “a lot”), she looks damn grand in her Old West get-up. It’s an almost comic-book inspired one-piece with Native American Indian fringe wrapped around his wonderful thighs and the cheeks of her stunning derriere. Like any sex symbol would back in the day (before it became culturally inappropriate in pop culture), she shows plenty of leg, struts like she means it, and stands tall and proud while being an authentic woman. To top it off, she photographs pretty damn magnificently when she’s fully dolled up and pointing the business end of her pistol at those butt ugly invaders. Granted, those watching closely might notice that she closes her eyes every time she pulls the trigger and makes the gun go ‘boom’ – something no expert gun user would ever, ever, ever do – but my inner misogynist will always remember her best in costume and looking like she knew what the Hell she was doing and loved doing it.
In fact, I’m remembering her right now, and it makes me feel something special.
Alien Outlaw (1985) was produced by the Trian Motion-Pictures Company. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights-and-sounds to what’s advertised as an all-new 4K restoration from the 16mm original camera negative to be pretty darn exceptional. (There’s a bit of grain here and there, but there’s nothing that impedes the story in any detrimental way.) Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Well, on top of the fact that this is probably as good as the film has ever looked and sounded since its original release, there’s a good bit more. The disc boasts two separate audio commentary tracks along with an in-depth featurette revisiting the production along with some archival interviews. All-in-all, it’s an impressive collection for such an overlooked flick.
On rare occasions, it’s hard to make anything revelatory out of an older, forgettable release like Alien Outlaw (1985). While I’ve no doubt that all involved probably had a grand time making it, the end result bobs and weaves so much around what serves loosely as a central plot that it’s just too … unfocused? At times, it feels like it was lampooning low-budget monster movies of the bygone era; and – at other times – Smoot and company strove for a bit too much earnestness in their storytelling. While there’s no escaping its obvious fondness for the conventional Western, I’d still insist all involved could’ve tried harder to maybe give the sharp-shootin’ Jesse Jamison one last shot at screen history. It could’ve been somethin’ special.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Alien Outlaw (1985) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.