THE "COUGH COUGH" STORY: For reasons not efficiently explored by the film's screenplay, the powers that be at Area 51 decide to open the legendary facility's doors to a couple of hard-hitting journalists in order to squash any speculation that they're hiding aliens within. Of course, what more perfect a time for the aliens that do reside in there to stage a prison break...
Tickle tickle tickle...
AREA 51 is a generally harmless Syfy product. Produced by After Dark Films, the flick aspires to be nothing more than middling entertainment with B-list "stars" and half-hearted lifts from other movies. While not as cheap and insipid as most movies made by The Asylum or as batshit crazy as the Cinetel Films entries, it's still seriously lacking in convincing sets or well-directed set-pieces. Most of the dough probably went toward realizing the aliens, which are okay from a "direct to cable" standpoint.
ARE YOU SERIOUS: AREA 51 is more or less a straight-forward enterprise, though it's sometimes so moronic that you have to wonder: the base itself looks like a barren Home Depot, which might explain why it's comically undermanned - there are about 12 soldiers populating the joint, with maybe half a dozen "scientists" in the mix. No wonder no one is prepared for the aliens' escape; most of the soldiers don't even seem to know what they're doing, nor do their superiors appear to know anything about them. (One officer asks a group of soldiers: "You've all been in combat, right?") On the "cheese" scale, it's lower than MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID, but not so ignorant as to play this nonsense completely seriously.
One of AREA 51's "action-packed" sequences
MONSTER 411: This movie isn't afraid to show off its creatures - though perhaps it should have been. Sporting three different species of extraterrestrial life, the movie must be given props for eschewing the terrible CG route in favor of practical monsters. We get a shape-shifter nicknamed Patient Zero who, when in his neutral form, looks like a dude wearing a full-body stocking with veins on it. Lady Death and Little Devil are a mother and son duo who must have Sleestaks and Aliens in their family tree. And then there's J-Rod. J-Rod is a benevolent alien on the Army's payroll who, after crash-landing on Earth after being shot down "accidentally" by a missile was promptly given a desk job. He's got the head of a Mardi Gras float and some pretty sweet telekinetic powers that are only thwarted when you throw a stack of papers at him. (Fun fact: J-Rod is based on a supposedly "real" alien being kept at Area 51 named... J-Rod! Here I thought the movie was doing some asinine spin on Alex Rodriguez's nickname.)
Rosie O'Donnell without make-up
PAYCHECK ACTING: Bruce Boxleitner is desperately hoping for another TRON sequel and it shows. Jason London's been down this road before in 2007's SHOWDOWN AT AREA 51, which is perhaps why he looks so comfortable here. (Or perhaps it's because he has no hopes or aspirations for his career anymore.) Similarly, John Shea - who had to play third fiddle to Teri Hatcher and Dean f*cking Cain on "Lois and Clark" - wears the expression of a man whom The Acting Gods have pissed upon time and time again, thus bitterness and resignation have taken up permanent residence on his face. (Other than that he's okay, I guess.)
RIP-OFF QUOTA: . In action, AREA 51 resembles another in a long line of countless ALIENS ripoffs (how very 90s of it), right down to the creatures coming down from the ceiling and impaling people with their long, spear-like tails... There's a meager attempt at exploiting Patient Zero's shape-shifting ability and creating a "who is it imitating now?!" suspense that culminates in a direct steal from THE THING's immortal blood-testing sequence, but it's botched as expected. J-Rod the helpful alien feels like something out of "Farscape", although I never watched that damn show so maybe I'm off the mark.
HOE DOWN: Predictably, no bikinis or even skimpy dresses are permitted on Area 51, so there isn't much to get a rise off of. Vanessa Branch, best known (?) as the cute Orbit Gum chick, provides all the hotness in her professional business wear; Rachel Miner (so damn good in Larry Clark's BULLY once upon a time) is doing an unfortunate macho, Michelle Rodriguez-y kind of thing, guaranteed to send your appetite ducking for cover.
"Just keep smiling, it'll all pay off when you get cast in a Syfy channel movie..."
WRAP UP: The actual idea, if explored well, would be kind of intriguing; this movie's cheapness and lack of imagination inhibit any actual quality. That said, it fares better than our last entry, the impossibly boring IRON INVADER, in the entertainment department; there's enough violence and gore (a chomped-apart head is a nice touch) to keep your bloodlust quenched, while the inherent silliness of the production keeps things from getting too stale. But I think it's J-Rod's contribution, most of all. He's a star.
RATING: 1 out of 4
SO BAD IT'S GOOD RATING: 2 1/2 out of 4