Monsoon-A-Day ‘Outland’ (1981)

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day

Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.

Day 97


On the show Key & Peele, there was a skit titled “Gremlins 2 brainstorming” where director Joe Dante (played by Key) is workshoping the sequel to Gremlins with a writer’s room when Hollywood sequel doctor Star Magic Johnson Jr (Peele) suddenly and inexplicably bursts into the room with the proclamation that the writer’s are quote “look’n like a bunch of sad sacks” and that they need to “put a little bit a spice into the mixture.” He then proceeds to let every writer create their own gremlin, each more ridiculous than the last. The punchline to the skit being that each and every one of the absurd ideas pitched actually makes it into the film.

In reality, Star Magic Johnson Jr was probably cocaine but if he was real, he’s the only conceivable explanation as to the existence of Outland. This film is the exact opposite of the phrase “kill your darlings.” Every single thing director Peter Hyams loves is in this film. It’s High Noon meets Alien meets Serpico meets Chinatown set in space starring James Bond.

And since Star Magic Johnson Jr is, in fact, magic–it actually works.

Assigned to a maintain order at an ore mining outpost stationed on a moon of Jupiter, Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery) is Gary Cooper from High Noon but with a Scottish lisp. The characters are slightly different (you never once feel like Connery is in danger) but the scenario is the same. A lone lawman must do battle with some tough hombres to bring justice to the town.

But the difference being that Outland only uses that structure for its third act. The rest of the film is dedicated to O’Niel investigating the sudden influx of stimulant psychosis related deaths and the recent deterioration of his marriage. His wife wants their son to live a life on Earth and O’Niel can’t leave IO until justice yada yada yada.

It’s a premise that isn’t strong to hold the film together but it’s cast sure as hell is. Besides the always reliable Connery, the films secret weapon is Frances Sternhagen. She’s the Doc Holliday to Connery’s Wyatt Earp and much like Holliday, she doesn’t take any shit. She’s a shit talking, hard drinking, doctor with the mouth of a sailor and their interactions are almost worth the price of admission alone. Her character is little more than a exposition delivery service but Sternhagen makes every second of screen time count.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Peter Boyle as the corrupt general manager of the mining outpost. He doesn’t have that much screen time but Boyle makes for a perfect corporate slimeball. He’s so weasely, he makes Paul Reiser from Aliens look like a bunny.

For that pun to work, rabbits and weasels would have to be part of the same family and I’m too lazy to Google if that’s correct. Just go with it.

Peter Hyams is a director that has never garnered the same affection that other genre directors such as Dante or Casmatos have gotten but he’s consistently proven he has the goods to be ranked alongside them and if you haven’t seen Outland yet, my only response would be to quote the great Star Magic Johnson Jr:

“Whas wrawng witch yaww?”