Enemy Mine – Review

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In every moment, Enemy Mine strains for greatness. A B-movie with the stubborn assumption it’s anything but, it’s a film that’s constantly at war with itself: its visual and thematic scope is clawed asunder by clear budgetary restraints, and its straight-faced racial commentary is frequently undermined by an unaccounted-for camp. But its tender sincerity is enough to make it a valuable re-watch; a sci-fi that forgoes the explosions and genre excess to deliver something far more soul-searching and meaningful, especially in the gung-ho-heavy climate of the blockbuster circa 1985.

It puts to shame the same full-face make-up of X-Men: Apocalypse, in which Oscar Isaac’s expressions are all but lost under the rubber – and this is 30 years earlier.

Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) crash-lands on an alien planet in the far-flung future, his space battle with the deadly Dracs sending his craft plummeting. The war between the humans and the Dracs, like most wars, has been long, bloody, and petty – and Davidge sees an opportunity to avenge his fallen comrades when he spots one of the enemy ships also tumble to the planet’s surface. When he eventually reaches his enemy’s crash site, relishing the thought of ambushing him to such a degree that he doesn’t seem to notice the cursed wasteland around him (think Robinson Crusoe on Mars as a horror), predator becomes prey as he has sorely underestimated his alien foe. When they realise that they’re better off working together to survive the harsh rock they’ve found themselves on, a hesitant, curious friendship begins to form. Unable to pronounce his real name Jeriba, Davidge nicknames his newfound Drac partner ‘Jerry’; free from outside social pressures, the two form a deep bond, and eventually – via a plot development that takes a turn for the bizarre but unquestionably emotional – an unbreakable one. Director Wolfgang Petersen has put immeasurable love into this, and it shows on the screen; each time a laughably hokey effects shot rears its ugly head, a meticulously designed practical creature steals us back; as Jerry the friendly alien, every expressive nuance Louis Gossett Jr. can muster shows through the inch of prosthetic covering his face, and his performance her is absolutely magnetic. It puts to shame the same full-face make-up of X-Men: Apocalypse, in which Oscar Isaac’s expressions are all but lost under the rubber – and this is 30 years earlier.

On the human side of things, Quaid starts off giving Davidge a universally stereotypical, smug ooh-rah that’s nearly enough to hate him. But once his unlikely companionship with Jerry blooms, a zen-like awareness becomes him (weirdly enough, this happens at basically the same moment he grows a wily beard). He also provides one of the most pointless, intelligence-insulting voiceovers of all time, a feature that comes across as a blatantly studio-processed afterthought. After the one-two punch of 81’s Das Boot (one of the greatest war movies of all time) and 84’s The Neverending Story (one of the greatest kids’ movies of all time), it’s curious that Petersen had so little leverage when it came to budget and final cut on Enemy Mine, but what he did achieve is highly commendable, even if it’s not entirely successful. And yet, considering today’s ever-inflating issues of race and identity, its not-so-subtle allegory on these matters proves refreshingly overt.  Tonally outlandish and yet moving despite it, this heartfelt space oddity is an entirely unique watch in 2016, if you’re revisiting it 31 years down the line, or seeing it for the first time. Enemy Mine may strain for greatness, but sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.

Enemy Mine is available on Blu-ray from Eureka on June 20.

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