Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif. (1997, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 28, 1997
Vastly superior to David Fincher's studio-gutted Alien³, this fourth outing still falls short of both Ridley Scott's hair-raising original and James Cameron's balls-out, war-in-space Aliens. Much of the problem here lies with Jeunet's unpleasantly sterile direction; though the film looks terrific, there's little emotional core, and when the assorted victims begin bleeding, it's sometimes difficult to care one way or the other. Set 200 years after the conclusion of the previous film, Alien Resurrection begins with the cloning of Chief Warrant Officer Ripley, who, you may remember, we last saw stylishly pirouetting into a large vat of molten goo in an effort to destroy the alien within and thereby save the universe (again). The new, improved Ripley is a different animal entirely, though she still resembles the old model at first glance: She's the best of both species – fearless, tireless, and with a dramatically improved basketball game. The military space station she has been born into is conducting experiments with the aliens, hoping to breed them in captivity for use in nefarious, covert operations. When a transport ship and its crew (played by Ryder, Wincott, and Jeunet regulars Pinon and Perlman) docks at the station with a batch of frozen “experiments” to unload, they find themselves caught in a wildly escalating situation involving – unsurprisingly – aliens run amok (as in his previous Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, Jeunet's vision of the future is bleak indeed -- nobody ever seems to learn anything from previous run-ins with the aliens). Gore and acidic alien blood flow in rivers as Ripley and Ryder try to stave off the encroaching critters and wipe them out (again) before the ship can autopilot its way back to earth. Joss Whedon's script gamely tries to muck about with the topical ethics of cloning, and delves deep into the wellspring of motherhood and Oedipal conflicts, but at its heart the film is essentially another shoot-'em-up aboard the grimy confines of a big, dark ship. Weaver essays the new hotmama Ripley with wry, good humor – you can tell she's having a ball playing this unstoppable die-cast she-wolf, and both Perlman and Pinon are goofily fun as the boisterous, profane space smugglers, as is the perpetually apoplectic Hedaya (certainly he's more interesting here than in the recent A Life Less Ordinary). Still, with little or no backstory on these poor folks, there's not much to engage your interest when they start losing limbs. It's a minor triumph of style over substance, and although no one has as much style as Jeunet, the base horror of the aliens (they swim now, by the way) seems relegated to the past. It's not scary, but it sure does look good.