Chris, because he loves to torture me, messaged me about watching and reviewing a rip-off of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the latest project here on The Robot’s Pajamas. The first one he wanted me to watch was an animated one from Korea but I couldn’t even find that on the more seedy parts of the internet so he assigned me a romp from the early 90s called Munchie. Now, after watching it, I definitely — 100% — think Chris loves to torture me. [Chris’ note: I do.]
On the surface, Munchie’s resemblance to E.T. is pretty superfluous. It’s about a little creature of relatively nondescript origin—is he an alien or something? Who knows because it’s barely discussed. All that is told is he is old and has been around a long time. Hell, the way the puppet is designed does little to help you decipher what the hell he is because he looks like a cartoon rat that’s come to life and developed an addiction to cocaine. Anyway, it’s about an ugly, magical little creature that finds his way into a little boy’s life and decides to help him through some bad slapstick and questionable morals and ethics—including changing his grades for him, teaching him to physically assault his bullies and torture the nasty man that wants to marry the boy’s mom. Lessons to live by!
The real thievery from Steven Spielberg’s classic comes when Munchie is making a getaway during what passes for the film’s climax. The story has some real sloppy conflict as it tries to establish that Munchie is a problem because he’s using his unique problem-solving skills to help the kid but is actually causing more problems. This seems like the film is going to go that route and it’s a fine route to take. But it suddenly decides it doesn’t want to make Munchie look bad anymore and suddenly the guy who wants to be the kid’s new step-father wants to steal Munchie (for reasons that are completely unclear). Suddenly the conflict becomes a cheap getaway and, during it, Munchie uses his ill-defined magic powers to make the Jeep they are in fly and the director uses this opportune moment to outright steal the iconic shot of Elliot and E.T. flying by the moon.
The rest of the film is a mess of acting that ranges from looking like the Disney Channel cheesy standard to some really awkward acting from the main kid Gage (played by Jamie McEnnan—who, coincidentally, stopped acting after this film and its sequel). McEnnan never really emotes and reacts very limitedly to everything going on around him—he barely has a reaction when he first encounters a magically little monster and then doesn’t act surprised when the beast suddenly inserts itself into his existence. When he’s not acting “surprised” over the realization that he just found out that magic actually exits, he has this awkward smile on his face: the kind of smile that comes from inexperience and a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I didn’t go into this film expecting brilliant performances that would go on to be the industry standard and be the type of thing that would be studied in acting classes and film school. Even so, these lazy performances that barely work for even the worst hacky comedy film really made it hard to invest in the story but, on the plus side, did make the film funny… although not for the reasons that the filmmakers were going for.
On a neat note, the film does have Jennifer Love Hewitt as a youngling and she plays the object of Gage’s affection—and that’s literally all she is in the film. I can’t even recall her name and she definitely had no other character attributes beyond just being a crush. Like the acting, I wasn’t expecting a deep, dynamic script filled with interesting characters but it still would have been nice to have a little depth to everything about it because, otherwise, this film—with all its E.T. thievery—just feels like a fish flopping out of the water at its worst and like a creative team just going through the motions to sell to the lowest common denominator at its best. Granted, the writer/director team gave us Not of This Earth with Traci Lords so greatness was pretty far away.
Finally, the most horrifying thing about the film is the puppet Munchie himself. It’s already bad enough that this character has the most lines in the film and just never shuts up (why couldn’t the production steal the fact that E.T. is a creature of a few words?) but, to make the lines even worse, you have Dom DeLuise doing everything he can to make the absolutely atrocious jokes on the script work. In the end though, this could be overlooked but what can’t be overlooked is the nightmare inducing puppetry work. The only way to truly express how horrific the way the puppet moved is to say that it appeared the puppet was always in pain and was on the verge of having a seizure… and that’s not taking into consideration that the puppet’s design comes equipped with wide-eyes that can only be described as “I think this puppet just did a Scarface-load of blow.”
Not to be too harsh (I think I’ve been pretty harsh already) but Munchie is a hollow, bottom-of-the-barrel kids film that was clearly stealing from E.T. but refusing to take into account the heart, drama, beauty and quality that is seen in the classic Spielberg film. Everything about this movie screams that it took only a weekend to write, film and finish as well as the reality that this weak, weak rip-off is far too insulting to the viewer’s intelligence (kids deserve better than this, even 90s kids). The only thing that makes the film redeemable and halfway watchable is that the entire mess can be amusing and trying to make sense of the nonsensical moments in the plot and its clear lack of containing a moral can be quite amusing.
Rev. Ron is a social media addict, a man who wastes too much money on stuff he doesn’t need and someone who has a finger that lights up and uses it to point to people’s hearts. He’s also a wannabe movie critic who, when not sharing his thoughts on movies or informing you of what’s coming to Netflix here on The Robot’s Pajamas, he’s over at his blog reviewing each and every movie he is watching. You can read more of his reviews there and you can also follow him on Twitter (@RevRonster).