Visitors to picturesque northern Michigan come for a variety of reasons.
The Pearson family, for instance, come for the fishing. The whole clan—Nana Rose, her two grown sons and a teeming batch of grandchildren—are taking a collective holiday full of boats, bait and bodacious family time.
The aliens—well, they come to enslave the world. And they set up their first base camp in the Pearson vacation home.
There was bound to be conflict: Squabbles over the pool, friction over who gets to use the grill, disputes over who broke the satellite dish with their glowy-zappy devices. Legally, the Pearsons would seem to have right on their side, having been the only party to sign a rental agreement and put down a (much needed) damage deposit.
Then again, possession is nine-tenths of the law, or so it's said, and these little green guys have the ability to possess humans almost at will: All they need to do is fire a mysterious little dart into the back of an exposed neck (à la Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom) and voila! The earthling becomes an organic robot, controllable via alien gamepad. (Think wireless Xbox 360 controllers with more vavoom.)
Alas, the unearthly interlopers thought the planet was strictly an 18-or-over type of place: Their little darts don't work on children. So with moms and pops and nanas everywhere in danger of being turned into Sharper Image-style playthings, it's up to the Pearson kids to literally save the world.
I said, it's up to the Pearson kids to literally save the world.
The truth is, the Pearson kids can't even save their allowances, so how are they going to save the whole world? Jake spends all of his on illegal fireworks. Twins Art and Lee can't pull themselves away from their video games. Bethany's too obsessed with her (older) jerk-of-a-boyfriend Ricky, and little Hannah's still taking afternoon naps. This leaves Tom Pearson in charge of the whole saving-the-world operation. He's got the smarts and ingenuity, surely, to come up with a plan to send the aliens packing. Only Tom's decided he doesn't want to be smart anymore.
"I don't want to be like you!" He tells his geeky, brainy dad. "I want to be cool!"
Hmmm. Seems like the stage is set for worldwide enslavement.
Tom, obviously, has his issues. But he turns out to be a resourceful chap, full of creativity and bravery and a surprising knack for leadership. Even Jake—Tom's slightly younger, slightly bigger and far more confident cousin—begins to defer to his more thoughtful relation. By the time the credits roll, Tom makes up with his pops, too. Turns out, family vacations aren't as lame as he thought, and being smart has its advantages.
All the children show spirit and gumption and even alien-oriented understanding at times. When one of the unearthly visitors proves to be pretty nice, Hannah befriends the fellow and names him Mr. Snugglelumps. The rest of the gang are a bit more wary at first, but the alien (whose real name seems to be Spark) wins them over.
Since I've now not only brought up Spark, but given his name, too, I must assign him due credit for siding with humanity—serving as a critical cog in the whole turning-back-the-alien-invasion thing. He doesn't even let the fact that he's been renamed Mr. Snugglelumps set him against us!
The first time we see high school senior Bethany, she's sneaking through her brother's window after an illicit rendezvous with Ricky. She hides behind a door when Dad barges in to bawl Tom out over his subpar grades—during which time he compares Tom unfavorably to Bethany: She didn't get into the University of Michigan by just, he says, "screwing around."
It's obvious there's some innuendo lurking in that dialogue, but Bethany and the Rickster haven't gone quite so far as all that. In fact, Bethany tells Ricky that she doesn't want to take their relationship too fast, and that he needs to be patient. But while her head's in the right place, her hormones are firing on all cylinders. For instance, she becomes flummoxed when Ricky rips off his "constricting" cotton shirt ("I hate cotton," Bethany says under her breath) and invites Bethany to rub suntan lotion on his chest.
Ricky, meanwhile, is all about speeding up the relationship. He pretends his car's broken down at the Pearson vacation home, knowing he'll be invited to stay overnight (Bethany's father warns the two of them that there should be "no hanky-panky"). Ricky also tells Bethany to "pour Papa some sugar," sends her a sans-shirt picture of himself via cell phone and generally reveals himself to be a lecherous cad.
Bethany walks around in a bikini and a midriff-revealing top. Aliens watch a clip from The Mask of Zorro in which we see a lady in a cleavage-baring dress fight, then kiss Zorro. The aliens wonder what's up with all that "lip hugging."
Ricky's life takes a dip downward once he's turned into a remote control toy. He falls off a roof, smashes through walls and gets into a video game-style rumble with Nana Rose (also under the influence of alien technology). Nana punches, kicks, racks and throws him around like a beach ball, leaving him bruised and disheveled. Then, when humans get ahold of the gamepad that controls Ricky, things get even worse: They force Ricky to slap himself about a gazillion times and send him crashing over his car.
Even when he's not possessed, Ricky gets the brunt of the movie's abuse: Tom and Jake fire about three-dozen paintballs at the fellow, most of which smack him in the crotch.
The aliens appear to have acquired most of their knowledge about relationships from Three Stooges videos. They push, punch and paddle each other with great alacrity. To their human enemies, they're less kind. Their little darts spark like miniscule fireworks when they find their fleshly targets. The creatures take down one child with a paintball gun, then tie him up and drag him through the dirt. They destroy a toy car, rip apart a Barbie doll and eat a live rat. They force a human to bash down a door. They regularly tell people they must choose between "eternal enslavement or instantaneous death." Gigantic aliens (the ones in the attic are small) try to grab and smash children.
The kiddos battle back with potato guns, fire extinguishers, rakes, fireworks (which they throw into the house's heating vents) and their remote-controlled Nana. One alien bleeds a bit after battling a plastic slinky. Another is zapped into near oblivion by his own doomsday device and is later snatched by a bird. Aliens turn on an antigravity gizmo (its power, strangely, limited to one upper-story room) that, when it's broken, sends children and aliens plummeting from ceiling to floor.
Bethany says she wants to find the inventor of love and hack him to death with a machete.
Crude or Profane Language
God's name is misused about 10 times, and we hear words like "crap," "sucks" and "heck." Aliens say "geck," which appears to be an appalling cuss word on their home planet. Jake refers to Spark as that "alien maggot," though sometimes affectionately. Other putdowns—directed at kids, aliens and adults alike—include "tool," "idiot," "wuss," "frog face," "gas pipe," etc. The phrase "son of a ..." goes unfinished.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Nana begins to act strangely, one of her sons—who's drinking a beer at the time—suggests quietly that they "better keep Nana out of the Pinot Grigio."
Other Negative Elements
Oh, the lying and cheating those Pearson children do. As noted, Bethany sneaks around with Ricky. Tom hacks into his school's computer system and changes his grades from D's to A's. (His parents find out and give him a stern talking to.) And none of the kids ever tell their parents that aliens have, in fact, invaded the vacation home. They cover their lies and secrets in a myriad of creative ways: When Spark steals and scarfs three or four hot dogs, Hannah claims to have eaten them. When a policeman comes by to ask why someone called about an "alien invasion" (a call made before the children decide not to tell anyone), they apologize ... for making crank calls.
While under the influence of the Pearson kids, Ricky asks if someone might be able to pick up some more adult diapers for him. "Mine are almost full," he says, waving his hand in front of his face. Nana bites Jake's arm, leaving her dentures attached to it. The Pearsons set off illegal fireworks in the backyard with a police officer's blessing. Tom, tired of being thought of as a brainiac, has taken to doing poorly in his classes on purpose. Nana seems to have some sort of television addiction.
Tom talks back to his father. And Jake admits to Tom that he uses his parents' divorce to manipulate his dad. Jake also says that adults can't see what a jerk Ricky is because "their brains are old. Mushy. Fried from too much '80s music."
Bethany and Tom "fail" to remove the remote control device from Ricky's neck after the alien danger has passed, then use the device to make him look like a dancing, flower-eating fool when he tries to get a new girlfriend. "I am so keeping this," Bethany says.
Aliens in the Attic ends happily enough for pretty much everyone involved. The world is indeed saved by the Pearson kids. Tom learns his lesson and makes up with his father. Loathsome Ricky is destined to be a remote-controlled laughing stock until the doohickey's batteries run out.
This review, however, has no such pat, comforting conclusion.
Not that there's anything terribly bad left to say about the film—I think I've already adequately covered what needs to be covered. It's just that there's nothing particularly good to say, either.
No, there's really nothing left to say at all, which means this review will end with a dispiriting fizzle, like a balloon running out of air. Aliens in the Attic is exactly what you'd expect it to be after seeing its lackluster trailer. It's a PG kids' film that 1) should have skipped theaters and been pushed directly to video, and 2) nibbles at the boundaries of what might be acceptable for the younger sort of humans named in its genre. Oh, and there's a third point to make here: This film offers no answers and asks no questions. The Three Stooges have more to say.
Which means, ironically, this say-nothing conclusion sums up the movie quite nicely.