*batteries not included (1987) / Comedy-Sci-Fi

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and some language
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Michael Carmine, Dennis Boutsikaris, Elizabeth Pena, Frank McRae, John Pankow, Michael Greene
Director: Matthew Robbins

Screenplay: brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Review published August 16, 2005

Steven Spielberg (producer of Innerspace, Back to the Future) served as the executive producer for *batteries not included, which is definitely inspired with the (at that time) Spielberg vision of friendly aliens beings, state-of-the-art special effects, and family fare.  Although actually directed by Matthew Robbins (Corvette Summer, Dragonslayer), he sticks very close to the Spielberg formula, although he falls a bit short of where Spielberg might have with the same material.  One notable difference is the inclusion of elderly protagonists, instead of the usual staple of young kids, as well as some anti-corporate sentiment that seemed to be a backlash to the era of greed that was the 1980s.

Real-life couple Hume Cronyn (Cocoon, Shadow of a Doubt) and Jessica Tandy (The Birds, Driving Miss Daisy) star as Frank and Faye Riley, the owners of a small diner in a dilapidated building that also houses their apartment in the slums of New York.  The rest of the tenants of the building are being paid off to evacuate ASAP, so that greedy land developers can take over and demolish the building in order to erect some high-rise corporate edifices.  Those that refuse are being threatened with injury "or worse" by some local thugs that are also on the corporate payroll to scare the bejesus out of the remaining tenants.  Without anyone to turn to, a desperate plea may have saved the day, as a couple of miniature flying saucers arrive, fixing up damaged parts of the building.  The saucers befriend the remaining tenants, although the thugs and land developers are determined to put an end to this new development even if it costs lives in the process.

*batteries not included is cute and charming in a way that will probably go down easy for those that like heartwarming family fare.  The spaceships have personalities of their own, and are fun to watch in their own way, and they will no doubt captivate young children as well.  If there is a downside, it comes in the form of some fairly intense violent scenes that occur as the story reaches its climax.  Young children susceptible to easy fright may not be ready to handle the sometimes brutal turns of events, despite the film picking up with a predictable happy ending (if one can call it that).

Decent special effects and solid performances from Cronyn and Tandy help bolster this otherwise slight story into a worthwhile experience.  It may lack the magical fascination of its brethren -- E.T., Short Circuit, and Cocoon -- but it stands up well enough on its own due to being good-natured and amusing as a modest fairy tale for the sci-fi generation.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo