July 19, 2016

Revisit: Independence Day

Now that Hollywood has proven beyond any doubt that the American film industry is totally out of ideas and the studio bean counters will only greenlight something that has some sort of name recognition by not only making, but actually releasing and publicly promoting a sequel to Independence Day, I feel the time is right to revisit the original artistically bankrupt naked cash-grab.

Independence Day is the story of Cousin Eddie saving the human race just to make President Lone Starr proud, while Cypher Raige and Jeff Goldblum destroy an entire alien species with their unstoppable quipping powers.

Written and directed by the Mad German himself, Roland "2012" Emmerich, Independence Day wipes out most of the human race in "put-this-in-the-trailer" money shots of (entirely American) landmarks being blown up real good and then treads water for an hour before Steve Jobs's technological brilliance wipes out our alien oppressors. I know people regard Uwe Boll as the worst thing to ever come out of Germany, and they're right, of course. But Emmerich's in the top 5, ranking just below Hitler and just above Angela Merkel.

Ah, 1996. Cast yourselves back to a more innocent time, when movies consisting of nothing more than offensive ethnic stereotype and explosions edited together with shots of people shouting at display screens could be made by people who weren't Michael Bay. Yes, in the mid '90s, guys in suits who really should've known better would routinely hand tens of millions of dollars to a goofy German who got his start in America directing a shitty action film starring Guile and Ivan Drago. Your old pal Carl Eusebius actually liked Independence Day when he first saw it in the theater, though I suspect that had as much to do with the fact that I saw it with the girl I was in love with at the time, the year before she backed out of going to the prom with me like a week before the date (not bitter, guise, honest) as with the fact that I was a dumb teenager who gave a pass to Con Air for Christ's sake. Though even at that age I had functioning brain power greater than that of your average sea slug and so hated The Rock, so I suspect that if I hadn't spent the entire evening with my Latina dream, I would've had much less patience with the parade of idiocy that is Independence Day.

Speaking of parades, in true disaster movie fashion, Independence Day features a parade of B-grade stars of the day, while of course giving them nothing to do apart from staring at the sky, staring at display screens, and quipping. We've got President Whitmore (Lone Starr), a former fighter pilot (more believable in 1996, a mere 5 years after the Gulf War, the first war that was totally indistinguishable from a video game) for no other reason than to allow him to personally lead the final counterattack on the Communists terrorists aliens, and his wife Marilyn (Laura Roslin), a woman who dies so Whitmore will have even moar reason to kill the aliens when he personally leads the final counterattack. (You can see why Emmerich got Academy Award nominee Laura Roslin for this meaty role.) There's computer whiz Jeff Goldblum, who brings down the aliens' impenetrable shield using a virus he uploads to them on a Mac (because computer geniuses use those instead of actual computers) and his offensive Jewish stereotype father (Judd Hirsch) and offensive gay stereotype boss (Harvey Fierstein). Then there are a bunch of military guys who don't really do much, wasting the talents of Animal Mother and Robert Loggia, plus a small roll for Harry Connick, Jr. when he was inexplicably allowed to be in movies. The star of the film is the special effects department, while the lead role is assayed by His Freshness as a Marine Corps pilot so good he's able to fly an alien fighter just by watching a group of them blow his squadron to Hell.

Plot? Oh, alright, if you haven't figured it out already from the set-up and cast of "characters". Alien ships show up, we don't really do much, aliens annihilate most of our major cities, we attack and lose because they have shields, we don't really do much, Jeff Goldblum creates a Mac virus that can take down the shields, we attack while Jeff Goldblum and Hitch use a captured alien fighter to meet up with the main alien ship and upload the virus, we blow up all of their ships real good, the end. There, I just saved you two and a half hours of your life.

Really, this film has more down time than Vancouver construction workers. I left out a dozen extraneous characters. There's the subplot of Agent Jay's stripper-girlfriend (played by Vivica Not-Actually-A.-Fox) rescuing the First Lady in a dump truck just long enough for her to share an emotional scene with the Prez in which Lone Starr utterly fails to hold up his end of the scene, and Cousin Eddie's family who hates him (as well they should), and the Secretary of Defense whose only purpose is to be wrong about everything, and stripper-girlfriend's idiot friend who thinks the giant ominous flying saucers hovering menacingly over every major city are friendly, and the President's advisor who used to have a thing going with Jeff Goldblum (do you think this world-destroying crisis will rekindle their romance? have you ever seen a movie before?) and Data's star-breaking turn as an offensive geek-scientist stereotype that would be kicked off the set of The Big Bang Theory for being too broad. God, this movie is tedious even to summarize.

Probably the biggest problem with Independence Day--apart from its being stupid, boring, poorly acted, poorly directed, annoyingly jingoistic and simplistic, and having Randy Quaid in it--is that it's fundamentally a feel-good movie that involves the deaths of probably a billion people and the likely deaths of a billion more. I don't know, I just don't see us blowing up the aliens real good as a happy ending here, though the film certainly does, with triumphant music and hugs and kisses for our heroes all around. (Our male heroes, of course. Despite having so many goddamn characters, there isn't a single female character that has any impact on the plot. That's right, the military is so short of pilots for the final attack that they draft the drunk, insane, drug-addled fugitive from justice Randy Quaid (who plays a drunk in the movie, too) because he flew military planes 25 years earlier and after that flew crop-dusters, yet there is not a single woman pilot. The human race may be about to be wiped out in this all-or-nothing last-gasp attack, but gender roles must be maintained!)

I mean, I'm not saying the movie should've been unrelentingly bleak. It is a stupid disaster movie, after all, and not everything with Laura Roslin in it has to be Battlestar Galactica. But come on, people shouldn't be wildly cheering the destruction of the alien ships at the end. A glimmer of hope, a sense of relief, okay, but not unabashed joy and celebration. Billions are dead. I don't think it's time to break out the party hats. Independence Day has been summarized as a '50s alien invasion movie with '90s effects, but that does a grave disservice to its awfulness. Yes, the movie is basically Baby's First Attempt to Copy Golden Age Sci-Fi, so it takes its plot straight out of a '50s flick, definitely including the treading water portion in the middle. (Though in the '50s that was because, for these low-budget films, shooting white guys in lab coats standing around talking was cheap. I don't know what this movie's excuse is.) But it '90s up everything else, and not just the effects. You've got military porn, latent homophobia (whatever it takes to sell tickets, eh, Roland?), the stunt casting of Harry Connick, Jr., the Fresh Prince defeating the aliens with his fists, people staring, Jeff Goldblum saying "Must go faster", people quipping about genocide, close-ups of Harvey Fierstein, a lame environmentalist message, people quipping about anal probes, product placement, moar staring, nuclear problem-solving, cheesy speechifying, people quipping about space travel, occupation shaming, even moar staring, and Animal Mother prevented from being awesome.

Independence Day is long, boring, and stupid, lacking even one whit of imagination, emotion, or normal human interaction. Or as I prefer to call it, a Roland Emmerich movie. I'm sure the sequel will give us moar of the same. And I suppose I'm okay with that, as long as there's no terrible fake Godzilla in it.