Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cinematic Dregs: Mac and Me

(1988) Directed by Stewart Raffill; Written by Stewart Raffill and  Steve Feke;Starring: Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Tina Caspary and Jade Calegory;
Available on DVD.

Rating: *

Michael Cruise: You know what I feel like?

Eric Cruise: A Big Mac?

Michael Cruise: The man's psychic!

I only have myself to blame.  I was looking forward to watching Mac and Me as much as I’d anticipate a snuff film, but something compelled me to see it anyway.  Maybe it was a case of curiosity getting the best of me, or a deep-seated desire to take the contrarian stance and tout it as an unfairly maligned family classic.  The seed was planted long ago, in another life, as a video store clerk.  I recall a parent commenting that her kid thought Mac and Me was better than E.T. – The Extraterrestrial.  They were wrong… so very wrong.  My initial skepticism, prompted by an overwhelming flood of negative reviews, turned out to be correct.  This movie hurt, so I must hurt back.

 The opening scene sets the stage for the endurance test that’s the rest of the movie.  An unmanned NASA space probe travels an indeterminate distance from Earth, and lands on an unspecified alien planet.  While collecting samples, the probe inadvertently sucks up a curious family of humanoid creatures.*  It returns to Earth with the family intact and alive.  We, the audience, are expected to suspend our disbelief, and accept that the alien family has somehow survived a prolonged voyage through the vastness of space, without atmosphere, food or water.  Hey, they’re aliens, right?  Anything’s possible, unless you witness the ensuing scenes on Earth, where it’s apparent that they have similar needs to other life forms.  Of course, all of the preceding would be partially excusable if there was anything else worth watching.

* The creature design for Mac and his family is uninspired and borderline creepy.

What follows is a carbon copy of E.T.; that is, if the copy had been trampled by a herd of rhinos, torn up into little pieces and taped back together, and transcribed by an army of monkeys on typewriters.  The titular alien is separated from his alien family, and winds up in a suburban Southern California neighborhood.  His human host family (as in Spielberg’s film), consists of a single mom and her two sons.  Unlike E.T., none of the aggressively bland family members seem to possess any traits that would distinguish them from anyone else.  It’s established that they relocated from Illinois to California, but apart from one character’s Chicago Bears jersey, they might as well have come from Michigan or Iowa.  About the only discernible difference is its protagonist Elliot, um, I mean Eric (Jade Calegory), who is confined to a wheelchair.  It’s as if E.T. had been entirely re-cast with understudies. 

Product placement in motion pictures is nothing new, but rarely has it been as blatant as in Mac and Me.  The film becomes a virtual string of commercials for companies and products, including McDonald’s ([Big] Mac and Me… Get it? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Sears (where Eric’s mom works), Skittles, United Van Lines and the now-defunct Wickes Furniture.  As for the ubiquitous presence of Coca Cola* in the film, I can only deduce that it was a ploy by Pepsi to defame its archrival.  Judging by Mac and Me’s $6.4 million box office take, I can’t imagine it was the marketing coup its distributor, Orion, anticipated.

* Coke is featured so prominently that the lead characters appear to drink it exclusively.  In one pivotal scene, Mac is revived by the magical soft drink.

Considering the parade of ineptitude on display, it’s hard to believe that some genuine talent worked on this film.  Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Predator) supplied a serviceable, if derivative score.  John Dykstra (Star Wars, Spider-Man) designed the visual effects, although he probably doesn’t want this on his resume.*  The effects range from mediocre to awful, but in his defense, Dykstra probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with.

* Oddly enough, Dykstra is listed in the movie’s credits, but his name is nowhere to be found in IMDB.

Mac and Me rises to the challenge of escalating the stupidity.  Just when you think the film has reached its nadir, it proves just how low it can go (try to watch the big dance number inside a McDonald’s restaurant and not cringe).  All of the characters in the film are unbelievably obtuse.  It takes almost half of the movie’s running time to establish that Mac (which stands for “mysterious alien creature”) is not a figment of someone’s imagination.  The relationship between Eric, his friends and the alien family is designed to tug at your heartstrings, but it’s simply a test of your endurance.  In the final scene, the words “We’ll be back” appear, which seem to be more of a threat than a promise.

I don’t normally comment about Netflix user reviews, but I think it’s worth addressing the alarmingly large number of positive accolades, proclaiming that Mac and Me shouldn’t be held under an adult’s scrutiny (“It’s a kids movie!”).  Kids deserve better.  The best so-called “kids” movies value the audience’s intelligence, no matter what age they may be, and appeal to our sensibilities on overt and subtextual levels.  This low-rent interpretation of E.T. is nothing more than a cynical, condescending exercise in corporate greed that confuses idiocy with whimsy.  If you’re looking for a title for bad movie night, then you’ve struck gold.  Everyone else should steer clear.

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