80s Odyssey: Mac And Me (1988)

I owe Paul Rudd one. I was watching Conan one day last week (Thursday, maybe) and Rudd was on to promote his upcoming movie Our Idiot Brother, a movie I’m actually really looking forward to seeing. The interview went well with laughs being had all around and then, when they threw to the clip of the flick, instead we got a clip of a kid in a wheel chair falling off a cliff into a lake and then a weird alien popping up on the screen. It was from an 80s E.T.-esque flick called Mac and Me. Apparently, Rudd has pulled this gag a number of times on Conan’s various shows.

While I had never seen M&M as a kid, I do remember the poster from various video stores growing up. A few months back, when I was on a huge 80s movie kick, I added it to the top of my Netfllix Instant queue and eventually got to it. (Speaking of which, I just realized I never got around to writing about Littler Monsters, which was actually a fun, weird and original movie.) The film has been panned for being an E.T. ripoff (which it is in many ways) and for being drenched in product placement (also true), but I thought it had a kind of quirky charm that kept my attention throughout the movie’s 95 minutes.

Here’s the story. A family of aliens are hanging out on their planet which is pretty desolate when a NASA probe lands and literally vacuums them up. Unaware of this, NASA brings a family of aliens back to Earth who promptly escape with the youngest hopping into a family’s minivan. The alien, dubbed Mac, winds up revealing himself to the kids (a younger brother in a wheelchair and the older one played by Douglas from Charles in Charge!), but the mom doesn’t believe them. Eventually the neighbor girls get involved as well and the kids head off to the desert with Mac to find his family who aren’t doing so well.

The E.T. comparisons are impossible to ignore. From the single mom with two boys to the scene where government guys are chasing kids on wheeled vehicles (this one utilizes the wheelchair instead of bikes), it’s pretty obvious that they were using Steven Spielberg’s flick as a guide. Heck small spherical candies even come into play (Skittles here, Reese’s Pieces in E.T.). This might sound strange, but I actually preferred a few of the changes in plot that the M&M folks made. I kind of like seeing Mac with his family in the beginning of the film. Sure, it sets up the emotional impact of him being estranged from his family in a more in-your-face manner, but I dug it. I also liked the gonzo ending, though I’m not sure how appropriate it is for kids (SPOILER, it involves cops shooting one of the aliens). There’s also less melodrama in the proceedings, which, depending on my mood, can be preferable.

Overall, though, the film definitely falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category. The above changes were interesting, but as a whole the movie’s still a rip off and super corny. Plus, there’s all the product placement I mentioned. McDonald’s plays HEAVILY into the events of the movie. Not only does the older girl-next-door work there (never seeming to take her ugly green uniform shirt off) but there’s also an extended dance scene that takes place in one of the restaurants under the auspices of a birthday party. Oh, plus, the aliens only seem to eat Skittles and Coca Cola, which are always positioned towards the camera so you know exactly what they’re eating or drinking.

If you are a fan of bad movies, I can’t recommend a flick more. Get some friends together, make up a drinking game (drink once every time you see a product name, twice anytime McDonald’s appears or is mentioned, finish your drink when the teddy bear dances, etc.) and have a blast!

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