In 1928 Mr. Reese combined chocolate and peanut butter to give us Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In the 1890’s some genius combined popcorn with caramel to give us Caramel Popcorn. In 1994 members of the bands Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees combined to form the powerhouse group Mad Season. Well forget about every classic match-up in the world … just throw it out of your thoughts. In 2010 The SyFy Channel and After Dark label combined forces to bring us a string of new, original films under the moniker After Dark Originals (Lionsgate also threw their hat into the ring). The first film of the After Dark Originals (ADO) 2011 that I saw, HUSK, was very lackluster, unoriginal, and silly (see my review here). Now I have another film from the ADO label under my belt, 51, and it’s looking like this years line-up might be the weakest line-up yet (and that’s really saying something).
Just like with HUSK, 51 will be premiering on the SyFy channel (Saturday, February 26 at 9pm ET/PT). This should right away throw up a few warning flags, warning flares, and huge neon lights. Towards the end of this past January most of the ADO’s were released in the theaters for a limited run. But the ADO films HUSK, SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE, and 51 were kept behind specifically to premier on the SyFy Channel. After watching two of them I can understand why. 51 is an extremely amateurish film that steals shamefully from other more well-known scifi films and has the feel of a made-for-TV-movie that should air on the Hallmark or Lifetime Networks. Every second of this movie dares you to keep it on and not use the fast forward button.
The story in 51 is that the government has finally caved in about it’s uber-secretive Area 51 and decides to let in a few journalists to take an in-depth tour of the facility. Hhmmm; that sounds realistic and believable. The U.S. government has a long history of caving in to the press [please note the sarcasm]. So who’re the lucky, world-renowned journalists given full access into the most secretive place in America? Well there’s the Peter Jennings-like talking head Sam Whitaker (John Shea) and his female cameraman Gomez (Jillian Batherson) and news blogger Claire Fallon (Vanessa Branch) and her photographer Kevin (Damon Lipari). That’s right; out of all the possible hard-hitting journalists in the entire world the government chooses a male bimbo news caster and a blogger — a BLOGGER!!
Col. Martin (Bruce Boxleitner) is responsible for taking them on a tour and convincing them that there indeed have never been nor are there currently any aliens at Area 51. But guess what? Deep down on level 6 there’s an alien that our own damn government has been holding since the Roswell crash back in the late 1940‘s (wait; our government holds secrets from us??). The alien is the size of a human male, likes European techno music, and looks like a really veiny, leathery scrotal sack wearing a Rorschach-like mask. The alien costume is extremely pathetic and embarrassing; you can even see the form of the actor inside the suit, which kinda looks like a burlap body sack. Oh but wait; this alien can morph into anyone it touches, and can morph exact copies of it’s victim’s cloths. Pretty good trick, eh? It’s one of those cinematic mysteries like why doesn’t Dr. Banner’s pants shred off of him after turning into the Hulk? So the second we’re told the alien can morph into anyone it comes in contact with, the entire rest of the film will flash into your mind in an instant. It did for me!! Blech.
Well the alien escapes and we get endless scenes of (ho-hum) “is it the alien or is it really the person.” Our “journalists” and a handful of soldiers are trapped below with the alien while Sgt. Hannah (Rachel Miner), Airman Aaron “Shoes” Schumacher (Jason London), and a handful of soldiers are outside the facility trying to keep the alien contained. We get the standard action we’ve all come to expect from an After Dark and SyFy Original, but unfortunately we get the same level of acting as well. All the actors look pretty bored, as if they knew they were making a standard scifi-alien flick that rips off better known films. Most notably writers Lucy Mukerjee (who’s produced about 10-11 After Dark films) and Kenny Yakkel (who also wrote THE TASK which is in the ADO line-up this year) don’t even attempt to offer anything original or new here. They steal liberally from Carpenter’s THE THING, but only some concepts and none of the mood or atmosphere. One scene in 51, in fact, rips off the “blood testing” scene from THE THING (but here it’s simply a quick flashlight test to the eyes). Shameless.
And just when you think things couldn’t get dumber we’re introduced to another alien. This alien, though, is friendly and dressed in a cute little Airforce uniform. Yup that’s right; there’s a helpful little alien that freely walks around Area 51 and offers intelligent, insightful advice to all the officers and soldiers. It’s name is J-Rod (VyVy Nguyen) and it looks like it has a huge vagina for a nose. I wish I was kidding. But there’s yet another alien and this one is big and does most of the killing in the film. This last alien is never really explained and looks like a left over prop from a SyFy gargoyle flick. We’re also privy to some effects that aren’t CGI. Yeah; no s**t!! We get some truly terrible puppetry that is an embarrassment to all special f/x artists everywhere. So we have dumb looking aliens (that have green blood, nonetheless), bored actors, very predictable action (there’s even a self destruct countdown in the facility), and very low production values. What the hell were the filmmakers thinking (Jason Connery, Sean Connery’s son, directed)??
Look I’m all for a cheesy SyFy flick. Hell; I love most of them!! But 51 is part of the new batch of After Dark films under the ADO banner and I was expecting way more. So far the two ADO films I’ve seen have been extremely disappointing. I think the people at After Dark and SyFy bit off more than they could chew by wanting to develop their own films, having total control from pre- to post-production. 51 is an exercise in banality and tedium that will really challenge you to stay tuned (and awake). But if you don’t believe me then you can check it out for yourself when it premiers on SyFy on Saturday, February 26 at 9pm (ET/PT). But you might have more fun shaving your balls with a rusty lid from an old soup can. Skip this one.
Director: Jason Connery
Plot: .5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls (for a few dismemberment scenes)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer