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Terminal Invasion (2002) Movie Review
Bruce Campbell is the kind of guy who can make a bad movie worth watching. And it's a good thing, too, because he's been in a lot of 'em.
A while back, Campbell signed a two-picture deal with the Sci-Fi Channel. Man With the Screaming Brain, his directorial debut, was so lacking in entertainment that it sucked the fun out of half my DVD collection. Then there's Alien Apocalypse, the highest rated Sci-Fi TV movie of its time, a fun and cheesy knockoff of Planet of the Apes, with giant head-chomping praying mantises replacing the damn, dirty apes. Lesser known is a third Sci-Fi movie of the week, made three years prior: Terminal Invasion. Like Alien Apocalypse, it riffs on a famous sci-fi film--The Thing. Only this time, it dares to take itself seriously.
Bruce Campbell plays a convicted murderer being transported by two cops in the middle of a snow storm (which the know-it-all deputy tells us is not technically a blizzard). After a car accident, the three are forced to trudge through the snow to an isolated airport, whose staff and passengers are less than pleased to see a handcuffed convict in an orange jumpsuit lead through the front door.
The characters remind me of The Langoliers, especially Mr. Fortune 500, whose catch phrase is, "Do you know who I am?" There's a young black man, who thinks this is whack, a bickering couple, two hyper kids, a new age chick, a janitor-mechanic-tool-belt-type-guy, a soldier with six months winter training and a hero complex, a little old lady behind the ticket counter, and the sole pilot and owner of the airport, an "Alpha Female" played by Chase Masterson.
Terminal Invasion wastes no time getting to the good stuff. Bruce Campbell asks to take a leak and--what? No! Eww! I haven't gotten there yet. The cops take him to the bathroom, where they bump into a kindly old preacher, who asks the convict if he'd like to make confession. That doesn't sound right--only priests take confessions, not preachers. When pressed for ID, the kindly old man knocks one cop across the room, breaks the other's neck, and starts after Bruce Campbell. (See? Aliens. That's the good stuff.)
The preacher says he comes from, "Far, far away," then his eyes do that weird CGI blink everyone stole from Men in Black, letting us know that it's on like Donkey Kong. Or in this case, Space Invaders.
Campbell manages to break the pipe he's handcuffed to and knock out the preacher with a fire extinguisher. Things don't look good for our convict. Everyone heard the shots and assumed he killed the cops. As if convincing them the preacher did it wasn't hard enough, the old man's body turned to purple goop and disappeared.
The whole "everyone assumes Campbell is a psycho killer" bit is a welcome nod to Evil Dead II and lasts all of ten minutes. Blame it on the snow, but the filmmakers couldn't wait to get to the cold war paranoia, and that means confirmation of alien activity. During a struggle, the New Age chick is accidentally shot. She instantly goes from "Can't we all just get along?" (seriously, she says that) to "You will never obtain the Necronomicon!" Having had just about enough supernatural she-bitches for one career, Bruce cuts her off with a headshot. New Age turns to goo, and we're officially knee deep in familiar territory: snowed in, suspicious of everyone and fighting among ourselves.
Bruce Campbell is in, if not top, then damn good form. He doesn't wisecrack as often as Army of Darkness, but he's tougher than ever, and takes no crap from anyone, save Chase Masterton, the pretty redhead he needs to fly out of there.
I had a lot of fun trying to guess who'd turn out to be an alien next. Some of the revelations are predictable, some come as a surprise, and one is downright chilling. When most of the alien identities are revealed, there's an unexpected shift from sci-fi paranoia to flatout horror. Held up in a break room, the remaining survivors must listen to people they cannot trust plead to be let in. Denied entry, their voices slowly change from human to something else, and the true nightmare begins.
As the cast dwindles, the film loses steam, until we're crawling through air ventilation shafts and poorly lit garages, just waiting for it to be over. It's even worse when the heroes decide to go back and save a character they'd left for dead. Shouldn't they, oh I don't know, alert the media that there's an alien invasion that threatens humanity? Big picture, people, big picture!
The film is directed by Sean Cunningham, whose name you might recognize from the original Friday the 13th. Aside from a single action scene with a frame rate so low, it can only be an effort to disguise technical difficulties, it's a surprisingly well shot TV movie. Despite the winter setting, colors are bright--no Storm of the Century blue filter overload here. As far as special effects go, the aliens look decent enough. It's just too bad the editor decided to use crazy whooshing transitions, which work after a gruesome revelation ("They're an alien!") but make a silly end to mundane scenes ("Hand me that wrench." Whoosh!).
Terminal Invasion was dismissed as cheap rip-off of The Thing, but that's not really fair. It easily has as much in common with the Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?", about travelers from a broken-down bus who hold up in a snowed-in restaurant, meet a couple of cops, and realize that their passenger list doesn't quite match the headcount. The aliens in Terminal Invasion don't kill people and assume their identities. Each has but one role to play, a role that is well rehearsed, and part of a much grander scheme.
With a better scripted second half, this could have been a classic. As is, Terminal Invasion is nice to bust out on slow winter's day. It's comfortable, has some memorable lines, and is easily one of the most watchable movies Bruce Campbell has done since the Evil Dead trilogy.
— Zeus (click to e-mail the author).
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