Xtro III: Watching the Skies (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1990)
In a dark, seedy motel room off a desert highway, in-hiding Lt Martin Kim (buff, no-name actor Sal Landi, looking startlingly similar to infamous professional wrestling promotor Vince McMahon, without any of the sleazy showmanship charm however… or much charm at all, alas) recounts to a wary local reporter (Karen Moncrieff, another in a cast swarming with forgettable actors) his ill-fated tale of leading a group of dysfunctional miscreant soldiers (we know they’re a mess by how much they all over-act) under the direction of the shady Captain Fetterman (the Wishman himself, Andrew Divoff, cementing with each subsequent film appearance, an almost complete lack of range) to an isolated island in the Pacific only to discover they’ve been lied to — the dangerous mission to clean up the abandoned ammo and weaponry left over from WWII they thought they were on is actually a cover for a likely suicide mission to capture the deadly alien creature the government knows has been hiding from them there.
How could it be? Could these shining-examples-of-completely-forgettable-forms-of-cinematic-mediocrity really be sequels from the same once-inspired filmmaker who brought us the unapologetically perverse original Xtro? And can he really continue to dismiss the first film while claiming this third entry as the one he’s most proud of? Okay, a filmmaker like Tobe Hooper may never have found the same footing after the masterpiece that is his 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre (though he certainly had his moments), but it’s not like he ever dismissed it as dreck while celebrating some later piece of ineptitude like The Mangler as his true masterwork! Surely, Harry, you jest!?
Okay, I’ll try and be fair here. While the introduction of Xtro into the local theaters of the day was clearly inspired (or, more to the point, likely the only reason it had the chance of getting made at all) by the success of Ridley Scott’s 1979 seminal Alien (not all that much, but enough, including having a go with its own jaw-droppingly grotesque alien birth-sequence), and then Xtro II, eight years later, with its small coterie of scientists and soldiers under attack in a sealed underground lair by a lethal monster, was riffing (or trying to, anyway) on Cameron’s 1986 Aliens follow-up, with Xtro 3, and its misled soldiers on an island in the Pacific confronted by an alien with camouflage ability (which should already give you an idea where this is going), Bromley-Davenport decided to mix in some of John McTiernan’s 1987 Predator … and the results, while far from spectacular… at least manages to create a more entertaining experience than the boring previous entry.
While the music is as overbearingly obvious as it was in the last film (and not like it was when Bromley-Davenport himself did the wonky yet endearing score for Xtro_”), the film is shot in the most perfunctory manner, and even the presence of veteran thesp Robert Culp as a smiling Major we just _know we can’t trust can’t elevate the overall performances from being underwhelming, I always appreciate, even as cliched as it’s become, a movie that portrays the military as a breeding ground for corrupt higher-ups working for corporate forces, easily willing to trade the lives of both soldier and innocent in the name of greed (perhaps it’s the very thing that Bromley-Davenport is so proud of).
Having it revealed that the surviving (I guess male) alien had its entire family (guess they got those nuclear families in space just like we got ‘em down here) captured by US forces, with it forced to watch as they surgically autopsied both its spawn and mate is a decent enough touch which, while not enough to really add pathos for the alien (the filmmaking isn’t good enough to accomplish that), does add some complexity (intellectually at least).
I also appreciate the transgression, as slight as it is, of having the mechanical alien itself looking a lot like one of the friendly ones at the end of Spielberg’s mainstream-friendly Close Encounters of the Third Kind … only making it deadly this time. The ‘camouflaging’ that the alien does might look a bit cartoony and primitive, but – hey, it did in the original Predator as well – but we do see the creature quite a bit and he admirably stands up to close inspection. The occasional gore gag, and the various cobweb traps the alien sets, aren’t bad either.
Even those cuddly white bunny rabbits running about as our hapless soldiers get picked off one by one, which I thought were kind of an odd production choice… until I read up later to discover that the US government, displaying their usual benevolence, dropped tons of the little critters on these isolated Pacific islands post-war to see what effects various massive weapons droppings would have on them… and now commend the production for at least adhering to some kind of research and factual basis.
It’s true these Xtro films have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. And only one of them is good (better than good, in fact). But since I’ve found myself here, deep into the late night hour, having watched all three of these films in a row (with the rest of my viewing comrades having bailed after the second one), I’ll finish it all up by stating that the third one is at least a bit better than the second one.
This closes the chapter on the Xtro films… unless Bromley-Davenport comes through on a fairly recent threat he made in an interview… something about a fourth entry in the series being in development. Some people just can’t leave well enough alone, can they.