A person can reinvent himself only so many times without losing fidelity—or sanity. Now, John Travolta has enthusiastically embraced himself as producer of Battlefield Earth one of the most hilariously bad films I’ve ever seen. This movie makes Gigli look like Then Lion in Winter. When I told the theater manager I was going to review it, he ominously said, “Oh No.”
I see three previous Travolta incarnations as scenarios: 1.) Travolta has the actual IQ of Vinnie Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter); 2.) Travolta has a brain tumor (Phenomenon); 3.)Travolta has entangled himself in a web of sexual deceit (The General’s Daughter) that includes his wife Kelly Preston and Forest Whitaker, since they must have walked into this thing slump-shouldered. But wait, Travolta has been trying to get the L. Ron Hubbard’s novel made for 10 years!! I’m going to have to go with number 1.
Since there’s no giving the story away because it’s been told a few hundred times before, I’ll just say it’s the year 3000, and sometime around 2000 aliens called Psychlos—yes, I said Psychlos (and …. from the planet Psychlo) have taken over the earth. It’s up to a band of enslaved “man-animals” headed by a scruffy mountain dweller named Jonnie Goodboy, better known as Greener, to kill the aliens, take back the earth and somehow blow up their distant planet with no technology.
Teri (Travolta) is the security chief over the “man-animals” handling and uses humans for some kind of operation that’s never quite clear. He frets over his transfer off the hellish planet and says thing like, “Kill all man-animals at will.” Teri and his assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker) have a puerile, passive aggressive relationship in which they try and one-up each other because, as we know, that is the height of “evil” on the “Ah, I taught you well” level.
Teri does not get his transfer and decides to make his own fortune and beat “The Academy: or “Home Office” or “Corporate” or whatever the hell the mucky mucks are called in this movie. His maniacal scheme is to use Jonnie Goodboy (because he’s a smart man-animal) to head a group of man-animals (just can’t say that term enough) to mine for gold and make Teri rich. So gold is currency on another planet? Um, OK. But in order for Greener to effectively command the unit, he must speak and know all things Psychlo. To that end, Teri hands over all the Phychlo knowledge with a moronic mind-melt laser beam that you can leave and come back to (learn cold, dark matter theories, get a cup of coffee, sit back under the Know-All Beam, soak in recombinant DNA, you know). Brilliant move: Hand over all the information to the one man-animal that could use it against you. Except that even after the mind meld thing, Greener still can’t figure how to use the Psychlo gun.
At one point, Greener finds his way to the Library of Congress, which is now overgrown with weeds, and—I swear I’m not making this up—bumps into The Declaration of Independence, blows the dust off it, reads a bit, then looks out nobly. Later, he and his grubby band get to an old Air Force base (like thousand year old jets would fly) Not only do these jets fly, but the group learns how to fly then by taking runs in a flight simulator. That wacky L. Ron Hubbard.
Travolta looks like he’s at a Trekkie convention and Forrest Whitaker looks like a frightened bat. The costumes also are almost enough reason to plop down matinee prices. Psychlos wear enormous space boots (for height) and have light green contacts (for that alien vibe), and since they are so much smarter than we are, they have big oblong heads and long dreadlocks because, as we all know, it’s hip to be evil. The set design is an amalgam of goofy, made-up looking gizmos all dipped in that familiar post apocalyptic motor oil that must have rained over everything after the … whatever.
When I went to see the movie, I had just bought a watch that lights up in the dark. During the “climax” I looked at it, and the man to my left leaned over to see how much more he had to endure. In the final scene, when Greener spots his girlfriend in a crowd after saving the universe and they hurtle toward each other, my girlfriend said, “I can’t believe it’s not buttah.” On the way out, a boy of about six, said, “That sucked” to his parents.