An evil businessman buys off and intimidates residents of an old apartment building that he wants demolished so he can build some new skyscrapers. The folks living there don’t want to move out even when hired thugs tear the place apart. So a couple of alien space robots come to the rescue and have the magic power to rebuild shit. They fix the place up and the evil businessman loses.
The plot’s a little strange because of that alien robot part. Standing up to some powerful asshole in a suit isn’t anything new. It’s that our protagonists get help from space is what makes things weird. They didn’t overcome the conflict on their own in the end. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, just not what I expected. I thought the aliens were going to give the tenants the tools they needed to be able to fight back but that doesn’t happen.
Speaking of strange and leads, our main characters are an elderly couple (one has Alzheimer’s (I think)), a struggling artist, a pregnant Latino woman and an ex-boxer that doesn’t speak. Not your typical family movie cast of characters. There isn’t a teen like in Back to the Future or even a face punching explorer type guy like in Indiana Jones. The old woman is legitimately engaging but that’s because she’s goofy and senile or whatever. I think the only reason the rest of them come off kinda charming is because the folks that want to toss them out of their homes are scumbags so they look good by comparison. If the story was just about these handful of people living in an apartment building with no threat of demolition then I wouldn’t give a shit. I mean I barely gave a shit as it was.
The aliens are what the whole picture hinges on. They need you to think they’re at least a little cute. And I will admit that they are. No explanation is given about where they came from or why they’re there but there doesn’t need to be. It works fine with these things just flying around while silently rebuilding stuff.
There are a few very strange moments in this film that I need to address. First off, we see the alien robots have sex. It’s totally innocent looking though with the two of them flying out of a chimney and embracing. The next they-really-put-this-in-the-movie-? moment comes when the female alien gives birth to little baby robots. And if that wasn’t bizarre enough, one of the babies comes out dead. That’s a helluva thing to put in a family movie. Eventually the silent ex-boxer brings it back to life but there wasn’t really a need to have this in the film in the first place. That baby robot doesn’t do anything to help advance the plot. The last peculiar thing that happens is the apartment building actually gets destroyed at the end. Ok, ok the aliens rebuild it, of course they do. But keep in mind that the whole driving force of the story is not letting this building perish. So the one thing that can’t happen happens. Sure it’s a fake out ending but they toy with the audience pretty hard.
You know, it may not seem like it but this film makes sense, at least from a production standpoint. Even though the concept for this piece sounds a bit out there I could see something like this being made today. It would definitely be animated and not live action but I could see it. Makes sense considering Brad Bird wrote this and he went on to eventually work at Pixar. The whole production has a very Spielbergian look and feel and that’s because he produced it. There isn’t enough here for a feature length picture and that’s because it was originally supposed to be a short for Spielberg’s Twilight Zone type show Amazing Stories. That explains the good thirty minutes (at least) in the middle where nothing happens. So this film isn’t inexplicably weird. It’s just a little weird and probably would’ve worked better as a short.
Overall I have conflicting feelings about this one. I can say for certain that this isn’t a great movie, or even good really. But goddammit this thing has a lot of heart and that makes it hard to not like at least a little bit. It feels like the people that made this picture were really into it and their enthusiasm rubs off. Like the special effects still look very good and hold up, you feel for these characters even though they’re not the most relatable or interesting and everything that you want to happen does occur: the tenants keep their apartment building, the evil businessman is forced to build around the apartment, the main henchman turns good, the construction workers turn good and don’t want to bulldoze the apartment building and etc. All the feel good shit you could ever want they threw in there.
Do I recommend it? Honestly I’m not sure. If you want a real cutesy movie with a cutesy goddamn title (I think it’s supposed to mean that the robots are alive, although I still don’t quite get the asterisk part of it) and cutesy characters that say cutesy dialogue and there’s cutesy mini alien spaceship thingies that have cutesy robot babies and you see what I mean, then go for it. If you’re not into that shit I guess don’t see it then.