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Silly flick is all trick, no treat

Brain-grabbing parasites from outer space can't seem to multiply as fast as science-fiction movies about them.

No matter how many bodies these new alien deathforms snatch in Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, director Stuart Orme never captures our minds like his predecessors.

Two previous Invasion of the Body Snatchers films and Abel Ferrara's superior 1993 shocker Body Snatchers used this nightmare to reflect social conditions _ the Red Scare, a post-Vietnam loss of national identity and radical conservatism, respectively. Orme has no such fascinating agenda in his adaptation of Heinlein's 1951 novel: he's only in it for the "ick."

The Puppet Masters creatures certainly provide that. Buena Vista's special effects group created a nifty little devil; a slimy, slurping blob that looks like last month's catch of the day, with a bullwhip tongue that wraps around victims, or whizzes the abomination around the room to escape. For reasons never hinted upon, these asexual beasts are imbedded in the backs of humans, with tentacle probes that reach directly into the nervous system, hence the "puppet" reference.

Donald Sutherland makes his movie appearance of the month as Andrew Nevins, chief of a double-secret intelligence group investigating UFOs. These suckers land in Ambrose, Iowa, with an eye on conquering Des Moines (indicating the aliens didn't do much reconnaissance work). Sutherland rolls his lines around his tongue like a dinner mint, and gets to add a nice method-acting limp to another easy payday.

Eric Thal co-stars as Nevins' son and partner, Sam, and his dull screen presence made me think his character's brain already had been snatched. Not yet, but it does happen later; you can tell because Thal starts breathing out of his mouth in a vain attempt to look sinister.

Julie Warner gets stuck with the sci-fi lingo exposition as an "exobiologist," an alien researcher, who chose that college major "because it was the only science that didn't have a subject matter." Her studies taught her _ I'm not making this up _ that a man must be an alien if he doesn't try to look down her blouse when she tempts him.

Exobiologist, exhibitionist; it's all the same thing when a dumb-fun diversion like The Puppet Masters doesn't try to be anything more.

MOVIE REVIEW

Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters

Grade: C+

Director: Stuart Orme

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, Julie Warner

Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and David S. Goyer

Rating: R; violence, profanity, nudity

Running time: 106 min.

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