E.T. Ripoff Week Day 4: Mac and Me

mac and me eric

Well, I decided to do the E.T. ripoff week reviews so it was up to me to sit through Mac and Me. Neither Ron nor John wanted to touch it and I don’t blame them. I’ve known about this 1988 movie since the commercials for it coming to theaters. But even as a kid I remember thinking, “No, that one isn’t for me.” I remember seeing its VHS box on the video rental store shelf and considering it but I never rented it as a kid. But for this, I rented it. And it was a slog. It’s a strange movie with flat acting, lots of intrusive product placement, and disturbing aliens with a tone that ping pongs all over the place. Let’s break it down.

Eric, a wheelchair-bound pre-teen and his older brother and mother are moving somewhere in L.A. for a new life. It’s never discussed whether the father left or died but mom has a great new job at… Sears. That’s not normally the kind of job that allows you to move from Illinois, is it? She’s literally a retail clerk of some kind at a Sears. So, if I gave it any thought, the dad died and they’re using insurance to move and buy a new house. But this is never said and also, they don’t have any family or friends in L.A. so the move is very nebulous. Anyway, I *think* Eric is the protagonist but he’s a very passive one that just gets wrapped up in the events with a weird alien.

But even though this movie desperately wants to be E.T., it has none of the craftsmanship. E.T. was expressive, but MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature) is more like a puppet. Or a mannequin. His eyes move and his ears wiggle slightly but that’s it. For any scene where he has to move we either have a closeup on an arm or upper body or a distant shot of a little person in a suit (the scale therefore moves around a bunch). His mouth is constantly open in a surprised “Oh!” expression along with inflated cheeks. It’s a little cute but it never changes. So he’s not expressive at all. Muppets are far more expressive which is impressive when you compare that Muppets don’t have moving eyes.

mac and me alien

E.T. is hidden in a dark forest for a big reveal when he meets Elliott. But MAC, along with his father, mother and sister are the first thing we see, wandering around a desolate planet by Saturn. They use straws to suck stuff out of the desert floor. A NASA craft immediately lands and takes rock samples. The family pokes around on it and gets sucked into it in a really disturbing effect. It establishes that the creatures, which look like nude Sea Monkey drawings, are made of something¬†like Silly Putty. The explorer immediately takes right off and heads back to Earth. It would take YEARS to land on a planet and normally we’d just send back the data but in this case it lands for a few minutes and immediately flies back. I guess MAC and his family don’t need oxygen or food because they are in for a long trip.

When the explorer is opened up for studying, it lights up and emits fog which the aliens use to escape in the confusion. None of the scientists or government agents have names or personalities but they immediately go about trying to find the aliens. There’s zero doubt that they exist. MAC goes one way and his family wanders into the desert. MAC is immediately electrocuted by a fence, stretching into a terrifying creature, then hit by cars and he causes a massive car accident. This is when Eric and family drive past heading to their new lives. Unknown to them, MAC slips into their car and steals Eric’s Coca Cola, the first of many product placements. As they drive past the accident, Eric’s brother Michael comments that there’s no way nobody died in the accident. He says it like it’s a joke but that is dark!

Some government agents are already there, doing car checks. But all they do is briefly shine a flashlight in the car, they don’t notice MAC because they do a terrible job, and they’re waved through. A lot of the movie is then Eric just missing MAC who seems to turn on and off electrical devices like a TV or remote control car with a touch. MAC is soon drilling and sawing through the family’s new home, getting Eric blamed. It takes 40 minutes before Eric FINALLY sees MAC by sucking him into a vacuum cleaner along with his friend Debbie. There’s a lot of weird crap that goes on with MAC’s undefined powers, like when Eric falls down a hill and off a cliff into a quarry pond (Eric’s fault) and MAC swims in and saves him. Or when he’s in the vacuum cleaner on Debbie’s back and makes her fly around the house in front of Eric and Michael.

mac and me mcdonalds dance

Once they know about MAC, they don’t really have any goals or plans. We know the government is after him but there aren’t any real stakes for Eric and friends to protect him. They guess that MAC is looking for his family. Who, by the way, are out starving in the desert. Idiots. They’re in no huge rush to help because they instead go to a birthday party at McDonald’s, where Debbie’s older sister Courtney works. They decide to bring MAC along in a teddy bear suit, pretending he’s Eric’s toy. MAC steals Cokes and dances in an impromptu dance routine that EVERYONE in McDonald’s joins in on. And all that’s said is stuff like, “Wow, what a great Teddy” by Debbie’s mom.

Government agents arrive at the McDonald’s. I have no idea how they tracked him. Eric, Michael, Debbie and Courtney grab MAC and they hop in the family van and go on the run. Eventually they find MAC’s family in the desert. They’re dying but by giving them some Coca-Cola, they are revived. Eric guesses this must be like what they consume on their home planet. What a terrible lesson for kids! This sugar water will make you healthy!

mac and me coke

The kids and aliens drive home and stop at night at a grocery store. Now things get dark and weird. The aliens wander into the grocery store, terrifying everyone. A guard pulls a gun on them and the dad alien takes it. Now the police outside have a standoff and aim their shotguns at them. Eventually they start shooting at the aliens and I guess hit some sort of gas tank, blowing up a huge building in the parking lot. It literally kills Eric. But the aliens walk out of the fire unharmed (the only thing that can hurt them is a lack of Coca-Cola I guess) and magically bring Eric back to life. So what about the government agents, right?

Well in the next and final scene, the government agents run to a building and it’s the aliens being sworn in as citizens of the United States along with other immigrants. And everyone’s happy. The conflict just evaporates. MAC is seen in a McKids shirt. McDonald’s! Coke! The movie is over!

mac and me ending

I just don’t know what to say. It was so uneven. The kids all deliver their lines like they’re reading off of cue cards for the first time. I mean, these kids are uniformly bad actors. And the central MAC puppet is so inexpressive. I kept wondering where the movie spent its money because the first thing should have been on that alien prop. At one point, when the kids are all driving to the desert, it is surrounded by a bunch of wild horses. I thought to myself, “What a waste of money.” It should have been used on even one scene with MAC, giving him some sort of flexibility or believability. MAC is sort of cute but I found his parents very disturbing. They just looked like nude people wearing masks. No one learns anything in this movie. Eric doesn’t have any real problems or story arc. Neither does MAC. Things just… happen.

The funniest thing about this movie is that at the end, MAC blows a bubble with chewing gum. It expands into a large cartoon bubble that says “We’ll be back!” There were never any sequels. The only good thing this movie ever gave us is the fact that actor Paul Rudd uses the clip of Eric falling off a cliff every time he’s interviewed by Conan and asked to show a clip from his new movie. Avoid Mac and Me.