Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OUTLAND (1981) - 3/5 stars

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Director: Peter Hyams
Writer: Peter Hyams
Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steve Berkoff
Soundtrack: Jerry Goldsmith
Claim to fame: Sean Connery...in spaaaaace
Rating: 3/5 stars

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to The Connery Factor. You may already be familiar with it: it's the cinematic law that states that the presence of Sir Sean Connery will make any movie good, or at least watchable. It's in full effect here with "Outland" (see also: "The Rock"). The only movie it didn't work on was "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" but that flick was so bad it basically forced Connery to retire from acting, so that kinda nulls it out.

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Don't #$&% with Connery...especially in zero gravity

Anyway, back to "Outland": some men are so manly that you can take them on land (train sequence in "From Russia With Love"), sea (underwater battle in "Thunderball"), air (the zeppelin ride in "The Last Crusade"), or the farthest reaches of space and they're still bad-ass no matter what their surroundings. Sean Connery is one such man and he's what prevents "Outland" from being just another typical movie for director Peter Hyams.

The film fits rather comfortably in Hyams' ouevre, falling somewhere between the serious-minded science fiction of "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984) and the b-movie pleasures of "Time Cop" (1994). Hyams wrote the screenplay himself and while he doesn't exactly have an ear for dialogue, the script is functional. There's even a kitchen fight (with Connery's head perilously close to a bubbling fryer) that recalls a similar fight in Hyams' other Van Damme vehicle, "Sudden Death."

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Millions of women left disappointed that Sean Connery

isn't an item on the menu at McDonalds

Now the opening credits of "Outland" had me worried that this was going to a pretentious "Alien" ripoff - Hyams even roped in Jerry Goldsmith to do the score - but the movie is more of a space Western or "Alien" minus the actual aliens. This smashed my expectations of a film about Sean Connery policing the Mos Eisley cantina from "Star Wars" (which I would still love to see).

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"Outland" actually has some nice looking model work, especially for 1981

But "Outland" succeeds as a classic tale of good vs. indifference. Connery's character is a no-nonsense, genuinely good man who has the occasional bouts of self-doubt but just wants to see that the right thing is done. He's the new marshall on a mining facility full of people who will gladly accept payouts from greedy managers or turn the other way while Connery is shivved in the back. After Connery's wife and child leave him, he's left alone on the station with no one to trust but a tough-skinned female doctor. The two of them discover a plot to smuggle llegal drugs onto the station.

Connery decides to put a stop to things, despite the fact that everyone onboard basically tells him to his face that's he gonna wind up dead for putting his nose where it doesn't belong. The fact that Connery can't simply allow himself to be bribed like everyone else - the notion that he is the one good man on an entire space station of lowlifes - is what really makes "Outland" a compelling watch.

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In his Bond movies, Connery always had a quip after he killed someone.

In "Outland," he just blows you away with a shotgun blast and calls it a day.

The production design shares some of the spotlight with Connery; although the film lacks the strong artistic direction of films like "Alien" or "Blade Runner," the sets have the benefit of looking functional and authentic. The barracks in particular are an impressive array of white chainlink fences, uncomfortable-looking cots, and guard rails, through which an exhilarating chase sequence occurs.

Sadly, just when the plot was ramping up I kinda lost interest. Probably because the film turned into Connery in a spacesuit, floating through the void of space, trying to get the drop (literally) on some thugs, and it honestly seemed a little...silly?

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Connery dares a facehugger to try and leap onto his helmet. He dares it!

Regardless, you're left with a terse, well-acted (excellent character performances from Peter Boyle and Frances Sternhagen) sci-fi action movie. It's clearly modeled after "High Noon" but there are enough new touches, like a futuristic drug that literally makes you work until you die and some impressive model work on the mining facility, that make it stand on its own. Netflix says the movie is nearly 120 minutes but it didn't feel that long at all. Must be the Connery Factor...

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Nothing like a sweaty game of racquetball for Sean Connery

after killing a bunch of no-good perps

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