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  *batteries not included Secret Saucers
Year: 1987
Director: Matthew Robbins
Stars: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Peña, Michael Carmine, Dennis Boutsikaris, Tom Aldredge, Jane Hoffman, John DiSanti, John Pankow, MacIntyre Dixon, Michael Greene, Doris Belack, Wendy Schaal, José Angel Santana, James LeGros
Genre: Drama, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: Frank Riley (Hume Cronyn), the owner of the New York East Side cafe that is in danger of being knocked down to make way for a business redevelopment, has enough on his plate without worrying about losing his livelihood, but that is what he is being threatened with. He's in a frazzled enough state as it is, what with his wife Faye (Jessica Tandy) in a state of senility so when she wanders off, as she does today, he is worried until she eventually reappears, and even then his fears are not assuaged. She has never really been the same since their son died in a car crash, and now embarrassingly she constantly mistakes one of the redeveloper's thugs as her boy...

Here was a film accused of the most awful schmaltz possible at the time of its release, but found an audience nevertheless. Obviously patterned after Cocoon - husband and wife Cronyn and Tandy had appeared in it - with a bit of producer Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extraterrestrial thrown in for good measure, it was unusual in being a family-friendly movie that did not feature any children in the cast. Indeed, the lack of kids is almost a plot point, what with the Rileys bereft of their offspring and nobody else in their tenement parents, although there is a pregnant woman, Marisa (Elizabeth Peña) upstairs.

Notably we never see her give birth, not even at the end, so it is left to the visitors from outer space to provide the cutesy factor as yes, this is a science fiction movie where the inhabitants of the threatened building are saved by the presence of a family of flying saucers who float in through an open window when things look their bleakest (it should be noted these saucers are about the size of dinner plates). Only two of them at first, but it turns out the "female" saucer is about to give birth, and so the little metal infants they produce are substitutes for the youngest generation that is missing from the characters' lives.

Of course, Faye is pretty much a stand-in for the children herself, which explains why she gets on with the saucers so well as she is essentially a naive innocent who everyone has to look after thanks to her Alzhiemer's. In a performance better than the film might have deserved, Tandy proves believable as a victim of the disease while supplying the heart and soul as it is she who embraces the concept of using love to get the upper hand, rather than intimidation that the redevelopers implement. This is brought out in the scene where ex-prizefighter Harry (Frank McRae) takes up his gloves to beat down Carlos (Michael Carmine), the chief troublemaker when Faye objects strongly because she thinks that Carlos is her late son.

This was originally intended to be an episode of the television series Amazing Stories, a more softhearted Twilight Zone for the eighties that was never really championed by the public, and there are signs that it would have been happier in the confines of the small screen. But it is a more interesting film than its detractors might admit, not only because of the excellent effects that bring the saucers to life, with a rickety charm all their own, but because of its faith in appealing to people's better nature to find a way out of whatever troubles may be hanging heavily over their lives. If this means *batteries not included is hopelessly saccharine then so be it, but its adherence to its tenets of decency makes for a pleasing throwback to the heartwarming films of the thirties and forties it strives to emulate and to a certain extent succeeds in. The score by James Horner is one of his best works.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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