Monday, 8 September 2008

Legion (1998)

The Dirty... Ten

Dirty Dozen meets Alien was no doubt that was the pitch given to the gullible folks at the Sci-Fi channel. I've got to admit that movie sounds pretty sweet (Lee Marvin punching out an Alien etc) but put those dreams to rest, my friend. They will not be needed here.

It's several hundred years in the future and the world is a very different place. The United States is mired in a never-ending, unwinnable war with an ill-defined enemy and troop morale is at an all-time low.  Okay, maybe not that different.  However, unlike the present day (for now at least) the United States has taken to executing it's more unruly soldiers in order to build morale.  One of the fellows scheduled for incineration is Captain Aldrich (Parker Stevenson), a highly-trained soldier who disobeyed a direct order in order to save his troops and was charged with desertion and sentenced to death.

A last ditch escsape attempt brings him face-to-face with Colonel Flemming (Troy Donahue), who has chosen him for a special mission to infiltrate and capture an enemy base on a hostile planet. Joining him is a rag-tag bunch of death row inmates who hit every peg on the cliche board. You've got a religious nut, a nymphomaniac, a computer hacker (Corey Feldman!), an acrobatic mute, a homicidal maniac, a hotshot pilot etc. One guy is played by Australian icon Rick Springfield. Leading said group is Major Doyle (Terry Farrel) who should be called Major Hottie, am I right? Apparently she got a lot of nerds hot and bothered when he played some bald, spotty alien on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (she's not bald and spotty in this movie, thankfully).

So pretty soon they're dumped on the surface of the planet and things don't look quite right. There's no sign of life, just a big ol' stack of bodies sealed up in a room. Plus all of the bodies are US Army prisoners, just like them. Tensions begin to fray, and pretty soon a mysterious, off-screen creature starts to pick them off one by one. Is it an alien life form that fails to show up on their life-scanners, or is it one of them?  So, despite the Aliens pretentions, this isn't really an action film. It's more of a thriller built on mistrust and suspicion. Unfortunately, you really don't care enough about any of the characters to lend it much thought, and when the killer is revealed I'd be surprised if it illicited more than a half-hearted shrug.

Why is it in these films that you can never do stuff like turn on generators or activate homing beacons remotely? You've always got to walk through a series of dark, conduit-lined, monster-infested corridors and get to some control panel and pull a huge switch that says "Make turn on now". Most of the plot is that kind of, get from point A to point B and pull switch C kind of thing.  Just an excuse to split people up so they can be picked off.  Meanwhile, Feldman's computer nerd creates a program to decrypt a found encoded audio file that takes about 40 minutes to process. The camera constantly cuts to the countdown timer but once the message is decoded it doesn't reveal who the killer is or really anything all that interesting. Thanks a lot, Feldman.

It should be noted that for a bunch of elite military commandos, they're about as dumb as a box of rocks. They are constantly squabbling and splitting up, leaving eachother unattended for long stretches. It's pretty pathetic. You almost feel sorry for Major Doyle, babysitting this bunch of morons and psychotics. Our main character, Aldrich, is the only half-intelligent one.  Throughout the fim the two of them engage in some half-hearted bonding, Doyle having been involved in the incident that led to Aldrich's execution.

So as I was watching this film I was getting increasingly frustrated. The monster and the deaths are usually off-screen. All you get is a yellow-tinted steadicam thrust in the faces of our victims and a scream, so there's not even a entertaining gory payoff. Towards the end, the only thing keeping me going was the idea that I would finally get a good look at the alien creature. Now, this is a terrible situation to be in. You know it's never going to live up to your expectations, especially since it's a made-for-TV Sci-Fi channel movie. Even if it was as awesome as the Alien Queen, the Predator and the Terminator combined, it would still fall short. And it does. He looks kind of like the Master from Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually, only with a much cheaper facial appliance and smeared with a bucket of slime. Considering how much talking he does you'd think they would make it so the mouth moves.

One thing that bugged me is that there was only one creature.  From a movie called Legion I'd expect them to be, you know, legion.  At one point the biblical reference is quoted ("Call me legion, for we are many") but it's pretty out-of-the-blue.  Really, that's about all I have to say about this film.  Unfortunately, it's not good or bad enough to be truly entertaining.  Just wrap yourself in tin foil (to give things a bit of sci-fi flavour) and re-watch Dirty Dozen.

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