Ever since I first experienced the unending genius of Mac & Me, which forever solidified my love for McDonald’s dance contests, I have always been on the lookout for other blatant attempts to cash in on the Friendly Alien genre. This niche of cinema was formed, of course, by Steven Spielberg’s much beloved E.T. and still continues today, but I’m much less interested in the recent stuff and prefer to track down such kiddie nightmares as Nukie and Munchie Strikes Back. They are all excellent examples of desperate people trying to ride a cultural wave, and today’s feature is no better. However, while Purple People Eater is definitely a rip-off, I can honestly say it’s not altogether a bad flick.
The movie’s title comes from an oldie tune used directly to further the plot, much like, say, the silver screen adaptations of Love Potion No. 9 or Girls Just Want to Have Fun. A very young Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser, M.D. fame plays Billy, a loner type who is made to live with his grandfather while his parents are away for the summer. While fixing up ol’ Gramp’s apartment Billy listens to the song, which causes a one-eyed, one-horned, flying Purple People Eater to manifest itself in the backyard. This shaggy ex-college mascot can emit crazy fly saxophone music from his horn, so he and Billy team up to form a band. Later they use this band to help out one of Grandpa’s friends, a sickly old bag who is being evicted from her apartment along with everyone else at the complex by a mean crook named…Mr. Noodle.
Yes, it all sounds tremendously trite, and to some extent your instincts would be right. There’s nothing here to surprise, and frankly I’m a little disappointed the movie wasn’t bad enough to warrant a more negative response. The only real irritant in Purple People Eater is one of Billy’s pets, a goose named Easter who randomly appears so it can squawk really, really loudly. After hearing this bird scream its head off for about a minute I was willing to take a knife to the TV if it meant killing the stupid little animal. Otherwise, and it still pains me to say this, the movie is alright.
Ned Beatty and Shelley Winters play Grandpa and his friend Rita, respectively, and they actually do a very good job. You’d think considering the material these two actors would have phoned in their performances, but for the life of me I thought they lent some much needed realism to the otherwise puffy story. Winters especially shows her talents, making scenes where she has to play cards with a guy in a purple suit seem almost natural and easygoing. Billy is a bland character played blandly by Harris, but some of the other child actors were fun to watch. If you ever wanted to see a big-haired Dustin Diamond (Screech of Saved by the Bell as he’s best known) play a kid named Big Z, then this would be a film to find.
There are notable moments of b-goodness, including some in-your-face product placement (the band’s first gig is at a Holiday Inn and the kids eat at a restaurant eerily similar to a Chuck E. Cheese’s), and a few overly quirky neighbor characters who seem to be living in another, much more cartoony feature. I guess the best moment came when Little Richard made a cameo as the mayor of Billy’s town. How can you foul a movie with Little Richard as the freaking mayor? You can’t people. So while this review may be short, just know this was one of the easiest movies I’ve sat through in a long while.