Close Encounters of the Hub Cap Kind
With a property developer employing dodgy low life Carlos (Michael Carmine) to try and harass the few remaining tenants out of their crumbling homes it seems that only a miracle will save them. But a miracle arrives in the form of two hub cap size spaceships that help to fix up the damage that Carlos and his goons inflict upon the resident's homes whilst these little spaceships affect the lives of the 5 remaining tenants who are near to giving up.
Whilst many in Hollywood would like us to believe that when Aliens venture from their distant planets to come to Earth they will come to destroy us, it appears Steven Spielberg is different and believes that they will "come in peace". Which is certainly the case when it comes to one of the movies he produced in the 80s "*Batteries not Included", a quirky tale of close encounters with hub cap style spaceships coming to a derelict neighbourhood where the remaining handful of residents are in dire need of a miracle.
Now there is something oldie Hollywood about "*Batteries not Included" and I am not just talking about the nostalgic James Horner score or that Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy star. The storyline surrounding these helpful visitors coming to perform a miracle in the lives of 5 desperate people makes it a little like a Frank Capra movie, just with it being spaceships rather than angels. And in a strange way it works because it is fun, it is sort of wholesome and does deliver a semi heart warming message. Although let's be frank because whilst it has that similar feel and the similar ideals "*Batteries not Included" doesn't get close to being in the same league as a Capra movie.
Whilst there are similarities to a Capra movie "*Batteries not Included" is also very stereotypical of 80s movies with generic corporate bad guys and nasty low life's and a sense of quirky comedy which was prevalent through out many movies during the decade. It does make it all a little bit dated when watched now but there is charm and fun to be had from all the spaceship jokes, big hair electrocution scenes and several other obvious moments of manufactured comedy. There are also some clever comedy scenes such as the once famous boxer Harry noble only speaking what he has heard from the TV he watches. It may sound daft but those moments work as does the obvious but tender romantic subplot between frustrated artist Mason and his pregnant neighbour Marisa.
Actually the tender side of "*Batteries not Included" is where it works best and charms you especially the storyline surrounding Frank and his wife Faye who although we are not told appears to be suffering from Alzheimer's. It's actually surprising that a movie which for the most is family fun would touch on such a subject but in scenes where Frank has to pretend to be someone else so that he can give Faye her medicine or where the stress of it all gets to him in a violent outburst really are quite touching made all the more so by the performances of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as Frank and Faye.
But aside from the tender there is the whole quirky side to "*Batteries not Included" with these mini hub cap style spaceships that are both cute and comical. In the same way that the mischievous Gremlins made you smile at their japes so do these little spaceships as their good intentions often end up being funny. They're not in the same league when it comes to the cuteness but they sure are fun.
Whilst Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy really deliver in their roles of Frank and Faye Riley they are not let down by the rest of the cast with Frank McRae delivering a nice performance as ex boxer Harry Noble who barely speaks. He gives it that gentle giant touch which works well as do the performances from Elizabeth Pena as Marisa and Dennis Boutsikaris as Mason who give it that obvious but nice romantic slant.
What this all boils down to is that "*Batteries not Included" is still a pleasant movie, which delivers a touch of Capra with 80s styling and somehow makes it work. It's not the most memorable of movies but it has its moments of fun and tenderness but it also has some nice performances most notably from Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy who add to the whole old style feel of the movie.