Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2012)
Don’t look for my usual long-winded preface here. I want to plow through my synopsis for 1988’s Mac and Me so I can get to the meat of the matter more quickly.
On an unnamed arid planet, a NASA exploratory craft uses its built-in vacuum to suck up a family of aliens. When the pod returns to Earth, the critters soon get out and make a run for it. The smallest one gets separated from the others and causes an accident when he ends up in the street.
During the aftermath, the little fella hitches a ride in the van driven by single mother Janet Cruise (Christine Ebersole). The vehicle also transports her teen son Mike (Jonathan Ward) and handicapped boy Eric (Jade Calegory). They’re moving to northern California, and as the boys settle in to their new house, they soon meet their intergalactic stowaway.
Eric has a close encounter with the critter but doesn’t get a great look at it. When he chases the being, the alien escapes, and Eric fears he ran into something scary. In the meantime, the trespasser continues to spy on Eric as he mopes about his own absent clan. To that end, he whistles a whole bunch to alert them to his presence.
That’ll take time, I suppose, as his family wanders in the middle of nowhere. While he waits, the alien redecorates the house in his own bizarre way, an action that freaks out Janet. She blames Eric so he wheels away in a mopey state. He loses control of his wheelchair and falls into a lake. The alien rescues Eric but inevitably vanishes before anyone else sees him.
This means no one believes Eric so he decides he’ll capture the creature to prove it to them. Along with neighbor girl Debbie (Lauren Stanley) he sucks “MAC” - “Mysterious Alien Creature” - into a vacuum. When they release him, MAC gets away and remains elusive. He attracts the attention of the feds, though, and they want to recapture this space critter. The rest of the film follows attempts to get MAC back to his family and to avoid the authorities.
If you want to find the date that marks the nadir of filmmaking, look back to August 12, 1988. On that day, Mac and Me hit theaters. I don’t feel this way simply because Mac is such a transparent rip-off of 1982’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial. (How transparent? Look to the left for the cover art to get a strong hint.)
No, Mac didn’t achieve historical hideousness due to its thievery. (And I’ve not even mentioned obvious nods to efforts like Alien and The Man Who Fell to Earth as well as the fact that MAC’s whistling sounds a lot like R2-D2’s beeps and boops.) Plenty of movies steal from better predecessors and don’t flop quite as badly as Mac.
I nominate Mac as arguably the worst film yet made because it offers the most grotesque product placement ever. McDonald’s sponsored the flick. That inspired the movie’s title as well as many mentions of the chain. Mac also features relentless promotion for Sears, Coke and Skittles and probably some others that I became too desensitized to notice. (I’m not sure if the frequent displays of Chicago sports paraphernalia is product placement or just lazy production design.)
The ads for Mac even touted a guest appearance by Ronald McDonald as though they’d landed a turn from Marlon Brando! The DVD continues this insanity, as its case mentions a “rare cameo” from Ronald McDonald. A “rare cameo”? Yeah, it’s pretty tough to get a hold of the burger-shilling clown - he’s a recluse on the level of JD Salinger.
Maybe if Mac and Me boasted a single competent element it could’ve overcome its cinematic plagiarism and promotional inanity. However, the film flops in every way imaginable from our very first glimpse of the crude and incompetent creations used to bring the aliens to “life”. Whether costumes or puppets, the space critters never look remotely believable. Indeed they come across as laughably fake, and it doesn’t help that MAC varies in size from scene to scene. One minute he seems to be about three feet tall, while seconds later he appears to stand no higher than 10 inches!
Logic problems and silly moments abound in Mac. These begin immediately, as the spacecraft gets back to Earth awfully quickly. And why would Eric use a vacuum cleaner to capture MAC? It’s not like he’d know that’s how they came to Earth in the first place. And then why would he immediately release him? He almost kills MAC due to his aggressive method of abduction and then worries about his fate?
I found it impossible to pick a favorite moment. My most prominent memory of Mac came from Lauren Stanley’s bizarre line readings as Debbie. She doesn’t seem to have the slightest clue how to play the scenes, so she overdoes everything. In contrast, Jade Calegory comes across as so bland that outside of a mild whininess, Eric displays no personality at all.
I suppose we should give the filmmakers credit for his casting, though. It’s refreshing that they hired a handicapped kid for the part, even though I’m not sure why Eric needed to be wheelchair-bound. This fact has no practical role in the narrative. Maybe it was just a ploy to make them look all nice ‘n’ sensitive ‘n’ stuff.
I’m cynical enough as it is, but the mind-blowing crassness of Mac exacerbates those tendencies. How else can you explain my skeptical view of Calegory’s casting? That’s how terrible Mac is - it provokes me to find a scheming reason for even its positive elements.
Mac does have one saving grace: it’s so thoroughly atrocious that it’s absolutely delightful. Sure, the storyline makes little sense beyond its massive appropriations from ET. The kids’ general blind faith in the inherent goodness of MAC and family must stem from too many screenings of the Spielberg classic. Even when Daddy MAC waves around a gun, the kids still cry that he’s harmless. Otherwise, characters change their attitudes at will, and the narrative follows a vague path that goes down whatever cheesy path the movie chooses.
Really, it’s insane some of the choices the filmmakers select. In one scene, MAC drives a toy car through the neighborhood while Janet jogs with a wheeling Eric at her side. Eventually MAC crashes and lands in a tree. He then watches the family while a horrible Peter Cetera style ballad plays. I guess this is meant to symbolize MAC’s sadness at the absence of his own kin, but it comes across as nonsensical. It’s like someone said “we need a song for the soundtrack” and plopped that one in at a random spot.
The same thing happens later in the film. Though the kids flee from the feds, the movie decides to make them perky and happy. It plays a song that sounds a lot like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” but was presumably a lot cheaper to use. They’re hiding from the authorities but they feel chipper enough to laugh it up on the way? This makes no sense. (And never mind that the passing police cars would spot them immediately - they’re driving the same van in which the feds saw them flee!)
All that and I’ve not even mentioned the bizarrely dark turn toward the end, the insanely imbecilic and improbable conclusion for MAC and family, or the strangest dance sequence ever filmed. Well, I have to leave some surprises for new viewers. Suffice it to say that Mac and Me is a mess, and an unredeemable one at that. Not a single professional or competent moment appears in this absurdly bad movie. And dammit, that’s why I love it and will delight in its stupidity for years to come.