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Alien Ration

First Whitewater, Then the FBI Files, Now This: The White House goes ballistic in "Independence Day."

The saucer's apprentices attack puny Earth clichés in 'Independence Day'

By Richard von Busack

THE INITIAL scenes in Independence Day, as the aliens start looking at Earth with covetous eyes, start you grinning. After 150 leaden minutes, the film is practically a provocation for alien attack. Independence Day does have superior computer animation, and I was pleased at how the aliens centered themselves so precisely over the Empire State Building. After a while, however, the straight-faced clichés start hitting you like laser blasts. There's the Sacred Dog effect, for example: L.A. gets vaporized, but fortunately, a golden retriever survives.

In the lead, a risible performance of purest hardwood, is Bill Pullman as Mr. President. Nothing becomes him so much as his assurance to a new orphan, "Yes, mommy's sleeping," unless it's his speech upon the appearance of mile-wide flying saucers overshadowing every city on the planet. "The question of whether we're alone in the universe has been answered!" "And?..." you long to ask him.

For more obvious laughs, there's Randy Quaid's rousing "All right, you alien assholes, up yours!" And finally there is Jeff Goldblum, keeping his eyebrows immobile for the classic line "All we can do is pray." (Dear Mr. God, please make the scripts in these $100 million movies less stupid. Amen.)

The war against the aliens is plainly a victory for monogamy and monotheism: one couple gets married before the final assault, and while witnessing the ceremony, a separated couple reaffirms their vows. Judd Hirsch, complete with yarmulke, scurries around giving mensch lessons to the survivors in the bunker, his faith reawakened after not having talked to God for years. (Dear Mr. God, it's me again. I know we haven't talked for a couple of sentences, but please don't let Judd Hirsch be in any more movies. He frightens me.)

Our nation's first happily married president in decades leads the assault himself. He was an ex­fighter pilot elected for his war record, and he rediscovers his manhood in the air (only days before, he was facing the perception that "they elected a warrior and got a wimp"). Since nobody expects a president of the United States to be interesting, current fighter pilot Will Smith is plainly the real hero, and first male lead of the film; he saves the day and has the best-looking girlfriend. Goldblum is the computer wizard who flies beside him; it must be a nostalgia trip not only for the days when people stayed married but also for the time when African Americans and Jews were pals.

THE ALIENS don't even get a good speech about the puniness of Earthlings. They communicate telepathically. So does the script, with handsome narrative antiques like a gold-hearted titty bar dancer raising a kid and the reformation of an old alky. (Quaid has played this role more times than Walter Brennan.) As if one sot weren't enough for a movie, Goldblum gets furniture-throwing drunk right before a casual remark by Hirsch tips him off to the Achilles heel of the aliens.

The script also kills off the more interesting characters, including Harry Connick Jr. as a fighter pilot who seems to have some sort of don't-ask, don't-tell affections for the recently deposed Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Connick contemplates Smith's butt, leans his head on Smith's shoulder and indulges in a cigar-sharing ritual with Smith that's up there with the Montgomery Clift/John Ireland revolver-measuring sequence in Red River (recently displayed in The Celluloid Closet documentary). All this, and he doesn't sing too.

The more noticeably that-way Harvey Fierstein puts his queer shoulder to the wheel, in Allen Ginsberg's words, but he also disappears too fast, as does Brent "Data" Spiner in a madman's Einstein wig, killed during the best sequence of the movie: a tour of the fabled secret air base at Area 51.

But all three--Connick, Fierstein and Spiner--had to die; they were too extreme. The pattern of sci-fi monster movies is always the same: hard-case military types and lab-coated technicians fight amongst themselves but then compromise to use both force and science to battle the alien communist menace.

In Independence Day, this half-century-old paradigm comes to an ending worthy of the 1950s, in glimpses of the rest of the world uniting under our lead and our flag. Underneath such sops to the left as Goldblum's fussiness about recycling and the domestic multi-cultiness of the cast is old-fashioned jingoism disguised as a kid's fireworks display.

Independence Day (PG-13; 150 min.), directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich, photographed by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, and starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum.

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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of Metro

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