From Bill Rebane last week to Albert Pyun this week.
Welcome to another B-Movie Enema article – the 328th if we’re counting, and… I do. This week, we’re going back to good ol’ Cannon Films to peel back some layers on a peculiar little sci-fi film from the late 80s – Alien from L.A. Now, why is it peculiar? Well, it’s because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. It’s almost a comedy in how our lead character, Wanda Saknussem (what kind of name is that?!?), acts with a nasally, dorky voice. But it’s played by the mega-hot Kathy Ireland, so isn’t that funny?!?
But, more to the point, it’s, yes, an ALIEN from Los Angeles that Ireland is playing, but not in the sense you’d think. No, she doesn’t go to outer space or accidentally stow away on a spaceship or anything like that. She actually gets into the center of the Earth and finds an underground civilization that isn’t too far off from what we have up here. It’s more like when you call someone who immigrates from another country an alien. So, yeah, it is a little different than we normally see, but it kind of makes it a much more interesting and subtle Cannon movie.
We’ve had an Albert Pyun movie before. Waaaaay back in 2017, and the 100th article, 1990’s Captain America. Pyun is not without some interesting talents. One of his earliest movies was The Sword and the Sorcerer and that movie was a lot of fun as a fantasy film with monsters and heroes and what have you. I could probably do many more of his movies. The man still works today, but, sadly, he does struggle with dementia and it’s very difficult for him to complete a film without considerable tinkering and continued editing due to his condition.
As for our star, well, in the time between, oh, 1987 and, say, 1992, you couldn’t find a hotter swimsuit model than Kathy Ireland. By the time she was in this film, she had been modeling for nearly a decade having signed on as a high schooler in the late 70s. She grew in popularity through the 80s and eventually became one of the greatest of all the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition models. The tall, 5’10 model was probably best known for her appearing in several grocery and liquor stores all across the United States when she was the spokesmodel for Budweiser and Bud Light. In fact, she was the first indication I had that 1) sex sells a lot of beer and 2) people actually wanted to keep in-store cardboard advertisements and take them home. That probably led to a third thing I learned about how those standees would be treated once in the home, but I’ll side-step that. Anyway, with a last name like Ireland and just how freakin’ great she looked in green, of course you could bet she would appear in a lot of late winter Bud and Bud Light standees to sell beer for St. Patty’s Day.
Alien from L.A. would be the model’s first film. She had appeared, of course, in commercials and what have you, but, in terms of acting, she had only appeared previously in an episode of Charles in Charge. The results are… eh, kinda mixed, but, honestly, she does give it her all in this movie. I’ll naturally point that out as we continue through this movie. Ireland would prove to be a huge inspiration to several other models, too, like Kate Upton and Ashley Graham. A lot of this is due to how Ireland presents herself publicly. She doesn’t get sideways with people who disagree with her despite having a pretty religious and conservative viewpoint. She carefully considers her interactions, relationships, and her image which is great. We can disagree on stuff, but I don’t ever see her stumping for truly awful shit – at least in no loud way that gets a lot of notice. She does her business and she has her personal life and she keeps things relatively separated. That’s savvy and that’s responsible.
But… We need to get to know her dorky Wanda Saknussemm character in Alien from L.A. God… Seriously, I am forevermore going to just refer to her as either Kathy Ireland or Wanda. I can’t type that last name again. It makes me think I’m having a stroke or my brain just got fried by an electrical wire.
I like that the movie opens with the Cannon logo and then goes black for several seconds. It makes me think that the movie decided it just didn’t want to show me what it’s got. But then we go to the beach. The chyron says “Once Upon a Time…” Great. This is a fairy tale by way of Cannon. I’m sure this is right up there with the great Disney animated films from my youth. Anyway… At least the movie makes with the goods instantly.
Wanda (Ireland) is bummed out because her boyfriend Chad dumped her for not having a sense of adventure. Her friend Stacy (played by someone named Kristen Trucksess – seriously what is it with the names of the people in and around this movie going apeshit with consonants?), says that Chad just didn’t like her and she should have gone blonder the last time she got her hair done.
Waitaminute… Chad… Stacy… Blonder… Wanda Saknussemm? This is a Jordan Peterson nightmare world! Run! Everyone! Save yourselves! There’s no time to get any of your belongings! We have to escape now!
Oh… Wait. I’m getting new information. I misheard Wanda’s boyfriend’s name to be Chad when it is actually Robbie. This is not that kind of nightmare world. This is a Golan-Globus nightmare world. Phew. Okay, we can continue.
Okay, I think I need to address something right at the top here. It’s very clear that we are supposed to find Kathy Ireland’s Wanda to be very cute looking. However, her squeaky voice and the fact that she’s the daughter of some egghead scientist or something also makes her massively dorky. It’s why surfer boy Robbie broke up with her. She’s not going to do wild and crazy things to make his pants tighter and shit. I know I like the idea of a dorky and kind of socially awkward bombshell like Kathy Ireland, but, let’s be honest, that shit won’t fly in the 80s.
Babes were babes. They didn’t wear monstrous nerd glasses even if they have flaming hot bodies and faces. Guys in movies dated wild and horny blondes and Playboy-quality girls. They didn’t date nerd girls – unless they, themselves, were cartoonishly nerdy. Despite whether or not this movie has some redeeming qualities (and, if I’m being honest, there are a few), having Kathy Ireland play against type in this way probably really did relegate this to being a footnote or trivia answer about what her first film role was.
Robbie states why he broke up with her. She doesn’t go anywhere but the beach. She didn’t go to all these various trips that Robbie wanted to do. She gets carsick. She’s also scared of flying. She keeps pressing for him to tell her what he doesn’t like about her and she’ll change. That’s when he goes nuclear…
So yeah, hot shot stud Robbie tells her that basically everything about her and how she is basically a dork bothers him. But, whatever, the studly surfer man didn’t mean to hurt her. Yeah, right.
Well, I suppose dorky Kathy Ireland is now available, that’s good news… I guess.
Wanda is feeling pretty darn rejected. Robbie thinks she’s a hapless nerd. Her father is constantly traveling because he’s an explorer or scientist or both. She even says her mom left her… But Stacy reminds her that she got hit by a car and died. It wasn’t exactly Wanda’s fault. She gets to work and before starting her shift at the burger joint, she prays that God gives her some sort of excitement and acceptance.
We then cut to North Africa. We see Wanda’s dad poking around a tomb or something. You might think that because he’s an explorer that he’s an Indiana Jones type of guy. Oh, no. No not at all. He’s about as dorky as Wanda. As he go further into the tomb, he falls or slips or something and we finally get to the credits. Afterwards, a courier delivers a letter to Wanda at work saying that her father died from falling down a bottomless pit.
I guess God answers her prayers by killing her father forcing her to have to get over her fear of flying and go out to North Africa to see how her explorer father of hers lived. Take that, Robbie. Now who’s not doing anything exciting?
When she gets to her father’s home, Wanda finds a lot of her pictures he kept over the years. His business associate tells Wanda that he has looked every day for her father, but it seems very unlikely he survived. Severely jetlagged from her trip, Wanda falls asleep and wakes up probably several weeks later. She starts looking through his things and finds a journal stated that the earliest ancestors were aliens known as Atlanteans. They came here looking to colonize it. They disappeared long ago.
But Wanda’s dad thinks they may still be living in the center of the Earth.
After reading about the Atlanteans, Wanda finds a secret passage in her father’s house that takes her to a deep underground cavern. When I say that she finds this underground cavern through the passage, I should say she falls off the ladder into it. Down there, she finds a picture of her and her mother when she was little.
I think we can kind of get the impression that these early moments in the movie does have one of the more endearing elements of the whole thing. You kind of do feel sorry for Wanda. She’s presented as this drip that doesn’t like going anywhere and never takes any kind of risks or anything of the like. She’s kind of forced to go looking for her father on her own and sees this as a great adventure or what have you. That’s exactly what she does. She even goes into the same tomb that her father did when he fell into a bottomless pit. Because she’s clumsy, she knocks a bunch of shit over which forces her to go deeper into the tomb and she falls into the same pit as ol’ daddy did.
Okay, so adventure begins. Now, again, I don’t dislike Wanda. She’s a goof. She’s a dork, but she’s somewhat sympathetic of a character because she’s lost her parents and her boyfriend and she’s generally down on her luck. These are good things to kind of get you on the side of this character. It’s not hurt by this dorky girl is being played by one of the most elite supermodels of all time.
But there are already problems starting to emerge. This first act of exposition isn’t exactly exciting. It’s not that it isn’t moving quickly, but it feels oddly cheap. The production value is there, but it’s just missing something to really push this thing forward. I think maybe it’s Kathy Ireland being forced to often act alone in scenes up to the point when she falls into the pit. She’s doing a pretty good job here in her first starring role, but, again, it’s just one person acting and reacting to things. She’s rarely been seen yet with more than one other person at a time in a scene.
So, while Ireland is pleasant even with this wimpy, dorky voice, and she’s holding her own well as a legitimate star of this movie, the movie itself is just kind of bland. Not that Albert Pyun and the collected people in charge of the music aren’t trying to punch this thing up, it’s just missing… something. I can’t even tell you what that something is.
As Wanda regains her senses, and realizing she can’t go back up the pit that she fell down, she finds a person being mugged. She helps save the guy and he tells her that they are in Atlantis. She’s not sure she can believe what he’s saying, but she doesn’t exactly have any choice. Like Velma in an important situation in any episode of Scooby Doo, Wanda loses her glasses. For a brief moment, you think the hotness of Kathy Ireland is about to take over this whole movie.
But, alas, she gets dumber looking glasses from this local she’s met named Gus.
Wanda tells Gus how she got there. He doesn’t seem all that surprised that she’s technically an alien. After his little Atlantean mining car thing breaks down, he and Wanda have to walk the rest of the way to Atlantis. The city looks futuristic on the outside, but inside, it’s like a combination of Blade Runner, crowded and fairly awful looking, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, dirty and awful. Despite her saving his life, and accompanying him to the city, and her being hot, Gus doesn’t really care to get to know who she is.
As Wanda looks around, we find out that Atlantis is dystopian. They have state-sponsored media that continuously gaslights the population. There are constant messaging over loud speakers saying what is and is not legal for people to do. The one law we are sure to hear is that any citizen who believes they have found someone who is an alien or doesn’t belong, they are to turn them over to the authorities. Those who “fail to incriminate” will be arrested as a criminal as well.
At this point, a wholly different movie has begun. We’ve gone from this kind of squeaky girl looking for a purpose and adventure to come out of her shell in sunny Malibu to this grimy, kind of nightmarish world where an authoritarian regime is controlling everything and kind of making life suck. That’s interesting. We have a Big Brother kind of system in Atlantis and a guy who looks like if Bill Maher decided to stop being an asshole and started being a cable access movie host constantly squashing news and information around whether or not the government captured an alien.
Maybe this is what the movie needed. However, it does feel suddenly very different than the movie that we started out with. There are little funny things in this town too. It’s almost like Paul Verhoeven came in and directed half this movie. But we heard already about how those who don’t incriminate others will, themselves, be incriminated. The guy who was denying the reports about capturing aliens is then called, in so many words, a “lying piece of shit” by the interviewer right on camera. Wanda is being hidden at the home of Roryis, Gus’ old girlfriend. She realizes there’s a machine on the wall that will do her hair and makeup. She shoves her face into the machine and it steams her hair and face and gives her a pretty decent look. When it finishes, the machine says that it “did the best it could” for her. That’s funny shit!
Also, there’s this street urchin kind of character that has taken an instant interest in Wanda. So she follows her with a hypodermic and looks at the camera so we know she’s up to shenanigans.
It also totally feels like that Wanda has completely moved past the desire to find excitement and adventure. Now, she’s just searching for her dad in this crazy place. She’s still this naïve, squeaky clutz. She’s hardly one to fit in. And here’s the thing – she doesn’t. Yet, it’s not the same reasons why she didn’t fit in on the surface world. Up there, she’s a nerd and doesn’t fit in with hot surfer dudes. Down here, she’s smoking hot and doesn’t fit in with all the monster people. Her and Gus go to a restaurant and the waitress treats her like garbage because she’s pretty.
However, it’s at the restaurant when Gus tries to call someone who might be useful to Wanda for finding her dad, the Dollar Store Helena Bonham Carter above that was following her with the needle drugs Wanda and takes her to Mambino, played by Deep Roy.
Waitaminute… Deep Roy… Possible Helena Bonham Carter… Dirty and nightmarish set design? OH MY GOD WE’RE TRAPPED IN A TIM BURTON NIGHTMARE WORLD!!! Run! Everyone! Save yourselves! There’s no time to get any of your belongings! We have to escape now!
Wait. Nope. Another false alarm, folks. We’re still in an Albert Pyun movie. Did Tim Burton rip off Albert Pyun? Now I’m legitimately curious.
So Mambino, the Boss of Bosses, is curious why this street lady brought Wanda here. The street lady wants to sell Wanda and her, uh, bones, to Mambino. She sets her price at 500 shiny ones. Shiny ones have a far better exchange rate than rubles. He agrees to 400 shiny ones. So the street lady tells the government for 500 dull ones that she knows where an alien is.
Sigh… We’re now getting into the deep economic studies of Atlantis.
Gus goes around the seedy part of Atlantis trying to find a “girl with big bones” and eventually finds her being manhandled by Mambino’s goons. So Gus takes on Mambino’s goons to save Wanda. Now, here’s something I hadn’t noticed until just now – every time someone sees Gus, they say “I thoughts you was dead” to him. Was that a thing the whole movie or is it just a recurring joke that comes in after the 45-minute mark? I feel like it’s a new thing. I feel like this script didn’t want to follow rules of a recurring gag.
Gus takes Wanda to a deeper part of Atlantis called “The Pits”. I figured that would be a good title for this movie. Anyway, that street lady sees Wanda and now she’s being chased by government goons. One of the g-men snapped a picture of her that then gets distributed all over this shitty part of town on the various media screens on the streets. Of course, the promise is that the capture of the alien will make that person rich beyond their dreams.
I think there may be some interesting parallels here about how classes tend to be used and forced into treacherous roles and turn on each other for money and so on. I think there’s something here trying to be said and some of it lands. The idea that the government would sponsor situations in which people would turn on their neighbors for favor is not without some of what this movie needed most.
She is able to get away and find a place where she can get a new outfit to try to blend in better. One of Mambino’s goons has tracked her down. That… pretty much makes the clothes change completely worthless. I guess they needed to get Kathy Ireland into a new costume that looks a little more Middle Eastern inspired and shows off her fantastically fit tummy. The goon is about to basically kill Wanda when, suddenly, a new hero arrives in the form of motherfuckin’ Thom Mathews!
Mathews is probably best know for playing Tommy Jarvis in my very favoritest Friday the 13th entry. Here, he plays a guy named Charmin’. Charmin’ punches out the goon for having pushed him previously and saying he shouldn’t have wrinkled his suit. He thinks Wanda is a little “big-boned” for being a troll. Charmin’ has no time for love, Dr. Jones. He’s on his way to do a little crime.
That’s another recurring thing that has started to pop up recently in the movie – Wanda being called “big boned”. That’s a way to make her recognizable as an alien. Because you know… Kathy Ireland, international supermodel and very fit… Har dee har har.
Charmin’ likes Wanda. He thinks that her voice is silly, but after hearing her life story, he’s taken a shine to her. Since he’s Thom mutherfuckin’ Mathews, Wanda’s taken a shine to him. He saves Wanda twice more from a big bruising giant who’s come to collect on the bounty for Wanda. He then punches out Mambino’s goon once more before he tells her he’ll hold off the others coming for her and she needs go to a saloon nearby to hide. He might just see her again if he can hold off all the bad guys. He kisses her goodbye and takes on the crazies trying to capture Wanda.
While waiting for Charmin’, Wanda’s captured by the government. Meanwhile, Gus has gone to find a professor who might just be interested in meeting Wanda because this professor has a theory that there is a surface world. Wanda could be the key to prove this theory. The professor agrees to help Gus break Wanda out.
At the Government Center, there’s a debate going on about what to do with these aliens. One guy, the guy who was on TV denying the existence of aliens, says that they should help the aliens return to the surface since they arrived here accidentally – which the leader agrees is likely the case. The general of the police force thinks they are spies sent here to gather info for an invasion that will reclassify all the Atlanteans as lower forms like trolls. Her argument against the other guy advocating for their release is that he has “weird tendencies” and he dyes his hair.
Now, see? More of that satire that has been sprinkled throughout the script. This particular gag is pretty spot on because all this general lady does is get dirt on other people. It’s her tactic. It’s the tactic of an authoritarian. Perfect.
The head of Atlantis decides he wants to speak to the two aliens, starting with Wanda. If they convince him that they are no threat, he will release them as long as they do not tell anyone of their existence. Depending on Wanda to save their skins, her father is a little concerned. Of course, the general lady doesn’t buy Wanda’s whole story and naivety.
Unfortunately, Gus is on his way to bust into the Government Center. He even beats up the friendly Atlantean with a head butt. This has completely ruined their case with the leaders. That’s maybe the broadest joke that works best in this movie. But either way, they have no choice but to run from the Atlanteans instead of pleading their cases. Wanda’s dad is wowed that the Government Center building is an actual spaceship. It’s what brought the Atlanteans here from the beginning and they built around it.
Unfortunately, the general slipped a tracking device on Wanda and her dad. They are able to know their every move. Wanda, her father, Gus, and the professor get to the pit where Wanda and her father fell into Atlantis. The professor shows them his “rock climber” which I think is a rocket-powered platform or balloon or something. The general finds them, but she gets punched out by the government dude who defended Wanda and her dad. The deal that guy made with Wanda’s dad is that they are not to tell anyone of their existence.
When they get home, Robbie, now with a new girlfriend, Susan, asks Stacy about Wanda going to Africa and everything. He wonders if this is some sort of a ploy to get him back. Stacy’s like yeah, why don’t you ask her yourself. That’s when we see the brand new Wanda – which happens to also be the same old Kathy Ireland.
Annnd that’s what you call a money shot, kiddos. If you were looking for a movie to watch at the video store, and you saw that Kathy Ireland was in a movie, and you were, maybe 12 or 13, you’d probably rent it. When you watched it, you’d see this dorky, squeaky-voiced version of her. You’d probably wonder where the hell the real Kathy Ireland is. You’d need to wait 80 minutes for that payoff.
Is it worth it? Meh… That’s hard to say. This is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde movie. It starts slow and kind of bland. Then Kathy Ireland goes to Atlantis and there’s a glimmer of hope with the various satirical stuff that’s thrown in. It’s almost a hit. The problem, it’s very possible that you’ll either not care long enough to get to the more interesting stuff or you’ll be annoyed by that squeaky voice of Wanda’s. Maybe it’s just best to check out the MST3K version that’s floating around online.
Still, I do find Kathy Ireland to be somewhat likable even if she’s kind of a ditz for too long in this movie. I do like some of those more interesting elements of Atlantis. There are a couple decent chuckles. But, yeah, this is a movie that could grate on you very quickly. So, your mileage may vary.
As is the case with almost all Cannon movies.
I am happy to report that she does reconnect with Charmin’ who figures out a way to get up to the surface. As she walks away from Robbie after she tells him that she’s changed and pretty much leaves him with blue balls, Charmin’ comes riding up on a motorcycle and asks her to help him since he’s new to these parts.
Next week, we go back to another action flick starring Leo Fong and co-starring everyone’s favorite, Cameron Mitchell. We’ll take a look at Killpoint from 1984. Be sure to follow B-Movie Enema on Facebook and Twitter. You can find links to those by scrolling to the bottom of the page, or at the top of the page in the column to the right. Also, tomorrow, is yet another B-Movie Enema: The Series episode as we watch Steven Spielberg’s Something Evil. Following on Facebook and Twitter will be helpful to know when that gets released, but I also recommend checking out the links for YouTube, Vimeo and Roku so you can be sure to check out all the goodness.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with my Bud Light Kathy Ireland standee that I really must get ready for. See you all next week!