APRIL 11, 2009
I normally don’t watch two films from a franchise in the same week (unless it’s to prep for a new entry, i.e. re-watching the Saw films whenever a new one is churned out), but I was too excited for It’s Alive 3: Island Of The Alive to put it off much longer. Knowing that it starred Michael Moriarty, I was pretty sure it would be the best of the series, as the leads of the other two movies were kind of bland, something that Moriarty certainly wouldn’t be accused of (at least, in a Larry Cohen movie - I doubt he was this amusing on Law & Order).
Unfortunately, while Moriarty IS great, but the movie itself is kind of lackluster. The island setting is a great concept (the babies are “quarantined” there), but it hardly factors into the movie. After a brief scene with some hunters early on (complete with a hilariously inadequate model of a helicopter which inexplicably explodes in midair after the pilot is slashed), more time is spent getting Moriarty and assorted others TO the island than is spent actually ON the island. The final third of the film takes place in Florida, and while the setting is still slightly different than the California locales of the first two, it still feels a bit repetitive.
And while the baby effects are improved, once again we don’t really get a lot of action with them. There’s a great opening bit with a new one being born, but nearly all of their subsequent carnage occurs off-screen. Once they become larger (i.e. can be performed by folks in rubber suits) they do a little bit more, but I stress “a little”. I know Cohen makes these films independently, but I also know that he shot it back to back with Return to Salem’s Lot, a film I’m pretty sure no one was asking for. He should have combined the funds to make one kick ass, Moriarty-starring It’s Alive movie.
Moriarty, it doesn’t even need to be said, is great. My wife came in halfway through and after 5 minutes was like “You love this guy, don’t you?” (she hadn’t been privy to The Stuff or Q). Not even a minute later, she got her answer when Moriarty found himself adrift at sea on a raft. A shark swam by, at which point he yelled “Of course! It’s not a shipwreck unless there’s a SHARK!” and I laughed my ass off for a good ten minutes. As always, his odd, clearly improvised moments help make the slower parts of the film seem to go by faster (such as the “going to the island” sequence, which, again, lasts longer than the “on island” segment it’s leading to). Unfortunately, he is saddled with the always annoying Karen Black for the final 10 minutes of the movie, which just further diminishes the impact of the already underwhelming finale.
Black does have a good scene with the film’s best creation (Moriarty is just playing the same guy he always does, can’t really call him a “creation” at this point), which is a sleazy mob-looking dude named Tony. He is attempting to bed Black (good God, WHY?) by blackmailing her by threatening to show her friends and employers a nationally published book (not the best blackmail plan I’ve ever heard), and repeatedly calls Black a “son of a bitch” after she pukes in his car (though he keeps wiping a spot that is clearly puke-free, so either he’s overreacting or Cohen couldn’t shell out 89 cents for some fake vomit). His increasing anger is simply hilarious to watch, and again, helps you overlook the fact that the now giant killer babies aren’t doing much.
Like in Q, the finale DOES feature dozens of cops being flung to their death, so there’s something. Nothing against the police, but there’s something kind of cathartic about seeing a bunch of them get wiped out, especially if you assume every one of them has written a parking ticket for a 30 seconds' overtime parking meter.
Oh, I almost forgot - there’s a brief joke at the expense of the first film’s plotting. It’s rare for any sequel to mock an earlier entry’s plot holes, so this was a nice little touch. Also, James Dixon returns as Perkins, the only character to appear in all three films (as far as I can recall). So in those and a few other respects, it’s a worthy entry to the franchise. None of them are particularly great, but they are admirably consistent and entertaining. I wish the upcoming remake of the original was done by a more interesting filmmaker with a more interesting cast; I’m not saying they can’t turn out a good movie, but this concept really deserves an A list treatment. Somehow I can’t see a movie starring Bijou Phillips and from the director of Art of War II as qualifying.
The DVD has a commentary, but after hearing a half dozen other Cohen tracks, I feel pretty confident that I don’t want to spend 90 minutes listening to it (once again - I’ve been assigned to jury duty, plus I am still going to work at nights - my day is kind of jam-packed). But I’m sure Cohen has a lot of great things to say about his other pictures and everyone who worked on the crew, and that he’s proud of his opening titles.
What say you?