Guilty Pleasures: My Stepmother Is An Alien (1988) Revisited

Court is back in session and first in the dock is jolly 1988 sci-fi romantic comedy “My Stepmother Is An Alien”.

When a Klystron tube experiment conducted by Dr Steven Mills (Dan Aykroyd) runs out of control and sends a radar beam to a distant galaxy, the inhabitants send Celeste (Kim Basinger) on a secret mission to discover the source of the beam and reverse its effects.

A high concept comedy where the high likely refers to the condition of the production team rather than loftiness, it’s hard to believe this throwaway, frothy sci-fi comedy started out life envisioned by its original writer, Jerico, as a dark allegory about child abuse. Can you imagine the writers’ room as Frank Galati, Richard Benner, Susan Rice, Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, Paul Rudnick, Debra Frank, Carl Sautter and Jonathan Reynolds rewrote and rewrote until the bleak child abuse allegory became a springboard for Kim Basinger to sing the theme tune from “Popeye”, Dan Aykroyd to impersonate Jimmy Durante and Jon Lovitz to hone his lecherous oddball schtick?

There’s plenty of comic potential in the alien ‘fish out of water’ scenario and Kim Basinger is good value for all the crazy things the script asks her to do. Celeste’s gradual seduction by the human experience is well played and, as you’d expect from an 80s comedy, quite bawdy for a PG-rated movie.

Celeste isn’t alone on her secret mission on Earth, she’s accompanied by a sinister sidekick (voiced by Ann Prentiss) who manifests as a phallic eyeball who rises from Celeste’s handbag to dispense witheringly acerbic observations and remind Celeste to keep on mission. Still, it’s nice to see the dianoga finally getting some work after being typecast in “Star Wars”. Aside from its big name stars, the film is also notable for ‘introducing’ Alyson Hannigan and, with remarkable foresight, pairing her with a very young Seth Green ten years before “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” would bring them together again. It even has the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it feature debut of Juliette Lewis.

The erosion of Celeste’s focus on her mission is the face of so many human sensations and experiences suggests you could make an admittedly tenuous case that Jonathan Glazer’s “Under The Skin” is a dark, existential reimagining of “My Stepmother Is An Alien”, but while you were busy doing that, you’d miss just how much silly fun this all is.

This movie came out when I was in my early to mid-teens and it probably doesn’t harm its nostalgic appeal that I had a massive crush on Kim Basinger at the time (who didn’t?) plus Aykroyd was gently starting his descent from his decade-long heyday but his role as a goofy scientist kind of evokes fond memories of Ray Stanz. The heavy referencing of Jimmy Durante might have sailed over my head at the time but the awareness it created has remained with me ever since. “My Stepmother Is An Alien” is a real cosy, comfort movie for me, taking me back to carefree Saturday afternoons at the local two-screen ABC cinema when daft jokes and cheesy special effects were all I ever wanted.