[Channel Flip resumes shortly; in the meantime, this was too good to miss.]
Thanks to late nights and decisions that seem poor but are in fact awesome, I’ve seen some truly amazing movies. The most recent is Starcrossed, otherwise known as The Movie Nicholas Winding Refn Probably Secretly Saw Before He Made Drive. The movie isn’t just that, but at intervals it’s pretty markedly that, what with its car-mechanic hero willing to give up everything to protect a particularly winsome young lady whose love he can never keep, illustrated by montages of driving at night, the best car chase ever committed to film, and everyone’s favorite Pink Neon font.
You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m James Spader. No matter what.
What this movie also is: the ’80s-est movie you’ve never heard of that features a beautiful alien who comes to earth seeking freedom, but finds James Spader instead. She knows nothing of love; he just knows nothing. Never have you seen such thematic eyebrow-raising attempted on so small a budget! Never have heroes run up and down so many flights of stairs! Not since Earth Girls are Easy has the ’80s been so, so ’80s!
I wasn’t kidding. This is the opener.
We see these twins a lot. This is all they’re ever doing. However, she’s clearly terrified! Where will she find help?
Why, James Spader, of course! Since everyone’s in for an awkward yet weirdly-alluring time when James Spader is your leading man, he is able to deploy an effective Do We Have A Problem, Guys protocol and scare off the twins. Now he’s all alone with the young woman he’s saved, who seems reluctant to chat but reluctant to leave. James is from the ’80s; he knows how to treat a lady.
Laaaaady! (Can we just look at how ’80s this is? He has two collared shirts, layered, blazer with popped collar, coat with popped collar, and an open scarf. She’s got harem pants and an enormous leather cocoon jacket with dyed to match gloves. Not pictured: his coat-matching gloves, her asymmetric earrings.)
He offers to drive her to the bus station (cue montage above), but he can’t just LEAVE her at the bus station. What kind of movie is that? So it’s off to a diner, where he makes every possible Shut Up Sir comment about Russia (from which he assumes she is fleeing), and then orders chili, because nothing says Impressing a Woman like a bowl of chili, and tells her she’s probably from Russia some more, alternating Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken impressions for no particular reason except that if I had this gig, I’d probably be doing stuff just for shits and giggles myself.
We learn that he’s a mechanic (oh really) who loves to drive (oh really) and is all alone in the world without a girlfriend or anything, not that he’s saying anything, just that he’s single, in case anyone was asking, he’s just a sexy single guy with a bowl of chili in front of him, is all
Once they get outside, it looks like the usual James Spader movie is imminent:
Except it turns out he’s just spotted the twins in their car. They’ll have to shake them on the bleak, cold asphalt. Land yacht away!
A REAL HUUUUUUMAN BEEEEING, AND A REAAAAAAAL HEEEROOOOOOO….
Note: I am, possibly, willing to be told that Refn has never seen this movie, even though there are some remarkable stylistic similarities here, and it seems more likely than not that this movie was one of the many ’80s influences that framed the aesthetics of Drive, despite its obscurity. I will probably argue with you, because Drive is a paean to exactly this sort of unlikely-hero low-budget nominally-noir flick of this era, which suggests that if this movie wasn’t a direct influence it is still of the same breath Drive attempts to recreate, and also because I made these screenshot mosaics for a reason.
I am not willing to be told that Drive, or any other film, can beat the car chase in Starcrossed for pure entertainment value: James Spader and his land yacht make slow circles and creak back and forth in the parking garage they rented out because they didn’t have road-shutdown money, at speeds of up to two miles an hour, as rock music goes absolutely wild in the background. By the last panel, in which this car lurches around a supposed hairpin turn that looks more like a traffic circle and cuts its lights, I was laughing too hard to screencap it, and had to go back.
But this isn’t the only action scenes this movie has! There are also a remarkable number of action scenes that take place on stairs!
Here, James has to reverse that butter-yellow mechanic’s onesie with two collared shirts layered beneath it, and go back up six flights in real time to avoid the twins! Then it’s down the fire escape, six flights, in real time!
He’s beginning to suspect she’s not actually Russian like he has douchily been blathering about. She must be different! What’s that? She’s an alien? Surely not! If you’re an alien, prove it to me with telekinesis, which we know all aliens have!
Levitating the billiard accessories? Trumpy, you can do stupid things!
Still, since she’s hot he takes her to meet his friends (one of whom is Clark Johnson, by the by, for those of you who enjoy seeing people from Homicide: Life on the Street before they got the phone call that they could be on a quality show for years and it would all be okay). They ask why she looks like us. James, casually, “You’ve read the Bible, haven’t you?”
…yes, it’s time for Theological Discussion Hour, as James makes a truly compelling case for parallel biological structure through mammalian evolution in temperate oxygen-nitrogen atmospheric conditions by pointing out that if humans are made in God’s image, how many images does God really have? (Actual argument.)
Then it’s off to the planetarium! (Actual plot point.)
After five miles of stairs, climbed in real time, we locate Mary’s home planet! (Her name is Mary, because she read the Bible her very first day on Earth, because movie.) When his elementary-school teacher shows up, she also demands proof of Mary’s abilities! Sensing that levitation would not impress, Mary goes for physics instead. This is proof enough for Mrs. Henderson (not her actual name, but come on), who joins their quest to get Mary back to her ship! Even though she specifically said at some point that she’s a fugitive and they’re trying to bring her back as an example to her downtrodden occupied people, so it seems odd to be sending her home! We are assured the government is after her, though I do not remember much about that at this point, but everyone might have hypoxia from climbing all those stairs, so I won’t judge.
Besides, we pretty much squash that plot point flat when they try to reach her ship (which is a neon-tube-riddled playground spinner), and the twins show up, annihilating Mrs. Henderson and sending our heroes on the run to a motel, where James gets some more information about her planet and her people.
As per usual, they’re utopian and downtrodden, unsure how to fight for their freedom, and now that she’s been on earth, and hung around with James Spader enough to have Strange Feelings, she must admit her planet isn’t perfect. You see, they do not know…love.
*cue smexy saxophone music* *literally, not even a joke*
Music For Lovers, 1985 edition
But their bliss is short lived, because the moment he goes out for coffee and doughnuts, the feds bust in and capture her. You mean she’ll never taste a doughnut?! YOU MONSTERS.
(I actually like this moment. James procured Girl Things, so he points out the makeup and then heads for Dunkin’, and I like that when presented with a palette of awesome colors to put on your face, she did whatever she felt like. Does it fit with her strange ability to find hipster clothes and braid her hair to Earth standards and obviously be wearing makeup in other moments? Of course not. But I like how stylized it is, as if she saw all the graphic prints we all know as belonging to the mid-80’s and went with it, and I like to imagine how the feds busted in and sort of wondered, for a split second, if they had accidentally interrupted a Cirque du Soleil performer.)
James comes back and finds his girlfriend is gone! It’s the feds! He’ll have to use his psychic abilities (oh yeah PS he has psychic abilities now) to find her and rescue her. TO THE STAIRS!
It’s now imperative to get her off-planet and back to her people, and she’s fine with going back to her war-torn downtroddenness because she wants to teach the people of her planet so many things!
He’s inspired her so much, and she wants to teach the others how to fight (yell, then run up and down stairs), and how to think (footage unavailable), and how to love (*sax music*)!
On the drive over (A REAL HUUUMAAAN BEEEEEEING), she purports to tell him about all the amazing things they have on her homeworld, like solar energy, and I get really sad for the history of energy consumption across the globe over the last 30 years. Then, all too soon, they’ve discovered the hideout of the twins’ abandoned spaceship (what even happened to them? Did they die? Where have they been?), and it’s time for her to say goodbye and travel back on her spaceship, the S.S. Neon Wedding Centerpiece Best Ever Transport Module.
She makes it to safety, launching moments before the feds show up en masse, out for a guinea pig and aware of James Spader’s new alien powers.
This movie’s tone has taken a sharper turn than any of its vehicles ever did! And James agrees with me:
Theology and planetarium knowledge can’t help you now, young sir. For you, and the movie, this is THE END.
Obviously, “mess” is not the way to even begin to describe Starcrossed. However, something about the in-text Bible ads, endless stairs, and shameless embrace of clichÃ© combine to create the sort of experience that encourages you to, hypothetically, watch five minutes of it an then call a friend and demand you watch it together long-distance so they don’t miss out. Because all of this, and its iconic ’80s-ness, make this movie a truly priceless piece of entertainment.
But don’t take my word for it. Ask Nicholas Winding Refn! He’ll know. Oh, he’ll know.