Laserhawk (1997)

Let me begin with a little backstory. As anyone who is an accountant, or at least watches CNN Moneyline because the girls are hot, can tell you, there are many types of tax-shelters out there. These include offshore investments, flow-through shares, retirement plans and sneaky loophole accounts that will get you arrested these days. Film productions can also be effective ways to spend your money without tax penalties, especially in places like Canada where the film industry is government subsidized. Laserhawk reeks of a tax-shelter for some filthy rich American investor group, a shabby, low-effort attempt to cash in on the mid-1990s craze for all things alien while at the same time laundering great amounts of cash. This thing couldn't have made much money in the end (hence it being in the public domain so early), but it surely made enough to turn a nice profit for the initial investors, who I'm sure didn't even watch the finished product (I hope they didn't).

Regardless of the reason this steaming pile was squeezed out, the sheer and unadulterated suckiness of this film cannot and should not be underestimated. The acting is almost universally horrid, the camera and sound work are simplistic and uninventive, and the computer graphics, while better than you might expect, don't inspire much confidence in our American school system. It will forever be a stain on the resumes of the people in front of the camera, and one of those head-shaking bad dreams for the production crew, most of whom surely committed suicide soon after wrapping (made that up, but it wouldn't surprise me).

Let's get it over with, shall we...

An opening pre-credits prologue is tagged "250 million years ago", in that electric blue Cannon Film's font, you know the one I'm talking about. A helpful voice-over tells us what we are about to see, which is an alien armada approaching a nascent planet Earth. These aliens are here to "seed" the planet's oceans with specific DNA to produce humans in the future (or maybe all life, it's hard to tell). The aliens will then come back in 250 million years and "harvest the crop", taking all life as food! 250 mil seems like a long, long time, but maybe these aliens have some way of bending the space/time continuum or something (I just like saying "space/time continuum", makes me sound smarter).

What's this? A small Fighter-type spaceship is now attacking the alien armada! The voice-over tells us that a "benevolent" race is opposed to this seeding program, and fights against the evil aliens all across the universe. We see the Fighter attack the ships in orbit, and then chase a lone ship down across the Earth's surface, exchanging laser bolts all the way.

Flying over the Panspermian ocean.

The Fighter is hit and damaged! It crashes into the ocean and quickly sinks. Inside the three-person crew "dies", but we see their "life essence" leave their bodies and fly out into space! Ah, this is one of those Star Trek-like lifeforms who are "energy beings" who inhabit bodies just to use them and then move on. Okay.

Cut now to the year 1997 (I'll explain it all later, relax). We go to the small town of Melville in rural Wisconsin, typical America I assume, to meet our film's protagonist. He will be a teenager named Zach, a nerdy geek kid with big dreams and even darker secrets. Zach is played by 17-year old Jason James Richter, who you might know from the feel-good role of Jesse in all three Free Willy films (other than those he's done squat, and his recent headshots on imdb seem to suggest that he's now a heroin-addled homeless bum).

Zach, looking a bit Jonathan Taylor Thomas (what's with the 1990s obsession with three names?).

Now Zach, being a nerd in the infant age of home media computers and CGI techniques, has a plan to become popular. In his parent's unused garage, he has set up a blue screen and some video editing equipment. He has home-built a very detailed spaceship model about the size of a hubcap and he's making a video where he will insert the UFO into the background of him running around looking all amazed and cool and stuff. This is 1997, remember, and the internet was still just a place for computer science majors and Al Gore, so he takes the grainy VHS tape down to the local TV station and overnight becomes a media star (when seen, the footage doesn't even look passable, and nowadays the bloggers would fry it to a crisp in three minutes).

The "footage".

Zach's newfound fame gets him a date with the school's resident hot cheerleader (played by a very young A.J. Cook, the smoldering blonde from Criminal Minds). Hey, every man in life has one shot at a girl vastly out of his league, right? Please let that be right...

The Cheerleader chats up Zach. Live the dream, buddy, live the dream!

Well, unfortunately for Zach, he waits too long to tap the cheerleader and the jig is up. A couple of USAF suits come to visit Zach at his home and he's busted. A certain Colonel Teagarden (remember him) grills Zach over where he got the idea for the spaceship design from, and takes him at his word that he just "imagined" it. Zach's draconian father, however, is not amused and the fur is flying at home.

Colonel Teagarden knows the scoop.

There are also repercussions at school for Zach, who is suddenly oh-so-not-cool (though you'd think he'd be a god to the geek crowd for pulling off a stunt that got worldwide attention). The hot cheerleader shoots him down like she's Lilya Litvak and the jocks all laugh and point just like they used to. Zach takes all this in stride, it's no different than his life a few days ago. This whole first quarter of the movie is irritating like watching an episode of Degrassi, but without the quality.

Zach is bullied in the lunch line (isn't this supposed to be a sci-fi movie?).

His dad makes him get a menial job busing tables at a greasy diner, to teach him some "adult responsibility" and we are made to feel bad for the kid (which is just crap, a job will always help a young man grow, unless it's at Wal-Mart, then it will crush his soul). It's at this job one night that Zach meets a young girl named Cara (who goes to his same high school, in a small town, but Zach acts like he's never seen her before, which is just weird).

Cara is played by 18-year old Melissa Galianos, a French-Canadian girl who has been in some stuff you've never seen. She's baby goth/emo to the extreme, wears all black with black nail polish and seems to be channeling Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Like all movie teens, she's social conscious and verbose far beyond her years, sounding more like Rory from Gilmore Girls than a normal teenage girl (who, from my experience, talk mostly of Justin Timberlake and Motorola phones).


Cara gives Zach props for his hoax, but she calls him on his stealing his spaceship design from a popular comic book. Zach claims to have never seen this comic, but to have had the idea for the design in his head from a childhood dream. Cara's not buying that, but she leaves him with the comic.

The, ahem, "graphic novel" in question.

Zach agrees to take a waitress home to her travel trailer in the deep woods where she lives with her redneck boyfriend (an oddly well-developed plot tangent that is never mentioned again, this movie is full of those). On the way back home, he sees "lights in the sky" and pulls over. A UFO (!) zips over him, all bright and shiny and probing the area with a whitish beam of light. Zach gets a good eye-full and then runs off, totally freaked out (as he rightfully should be, though the next day he doesn't seem that emotionally scared from the event, as 99.9% of normal people would be).

The UFO scoutship in the woods, and not Rendelsheim Woods, either.

Off now to a school bus full of jocks returning from a football game. A bigass UFO hovers over the bus, kills the engine, and sucks it up via a green tractor beam! Serves them right for picking on our hero Zach. This is presumably the same UFO that Zach just saw, but that's just a guess.

Probably the best CGI shot in the entire movie.

The next day, a group of parents crowd the little town's sheriff and demand answers (though I see that there are maybe only ten parents here, making you wonder if the other forty kids on the bus were all brothers or raised by wolves). The sheriff is pudgy and mustachioed like Detective Frank Cannon (if you get that without Google, then I love you) and seems fully unprepared to deal with such a major problem in his one-horse town.

The Sheriff, who keeps pulling up his size 48 pants ten times a scene.

About this time, the bus is found out in the woods by a hunter. We go now to the bus, which is empty and with lots of scratches and broken windows. The sheriff is freaking out now, and all he can think of to do is alert the FBI (good call) but doesn't tell the parents (bad call).

The bus in the woods.

Zach and his mostest bestest best friend since grade school now get into a fight over Zach's claims to have seen a real UFO. The friend is tired of his "delusions of grandeur" and basically tells him to fuck off. As events will show, this is sadly the last time these two friends will see each other alive, so this is a bad way for them to end.

Zach's best friend, sporting the classic geeky backwards plaid newsboy hat.

Zach meets Cara again, outside the b-movie theater that she works at (of course, where else but here or an alternative record shop would an emo girl like her work?). Zach manages to convince her that he really did see a UFO, though the fact that she's clearly smitten with him doesn't hurt. From this point to the end of the movie, these two will be inseparable, and their juvenile love will grow accordingly. Oh, and they won't have another wardrobe change for the rest of the film either, which sucks because Cara has an impressive rack and it would be nice to see her in something else than that dippy black frock.

Ha! Note the marquee. There is no Cyber Jack 3, but Cyber Jack was produced by our film's producer John A. Curtis, who also wrote the screenplay for Xtro II. Funny stuff, eh?

That night, Zach and Cara sneak out to the woods where the bus is. The bus, despite being a major crime scene where fifty kids disappeared into thin air, is guarded by nothing more than a single line of yellow caution tape. On the bus, they find under a seat a camcorder dropped by one of the abducted students (what the fuck!?! Who did the CSI on this, monkeys?) and they watch the footage. It shows the inside of the bus as it's being raised up by the UFO, all the jocks screaming and piling over each other.

Looking at the camera.

They are then caught by the sheriff (in one of those ridiculous movie cliches where someone sneaks up on the hero and catches them in a way that makes it look like the hero has zero hearing or peripheral vision). He drives them back to town (we wonder how he knew they were out here in the first place and why he's working so late). On the ride he belittles them for "planting that phoney baloney video tape" on the bus, totally missing the fact that FIFTY KIDS ARE MISSING AND YOU HAVE NO OTHER CLUES!!!

Driving in the police car.

Back in town, they are surprised to see that the entire place is empty of people! But not all is quiet, a UFO is hovering over the town! The ship has just finished sucking up everyone in town with its tractor beam, and the arrival of the sheriff's car only gives it another target. The sheriff makes a go of it, burning rubber down the street in an attempt to escape, but it's hard to outrun a spaceship. Trapped in an alley, the tractor beam starts to lift the car up as everyone yells a lot.

Sucking up the car.

Thinking quickly, Zach grabs a shotgun from the gun rack and blows out the back window so he and Cara can escape. Ever discharge a 12-guage shotgun in a small enclosed space? Well I have (look, I was young, ok?) and let me assure you that Zach and Cara would be permanently deaf. They're ok, however, but the poor sheriff goes up with the car.

Crawling out the back window.

Zach and Cara escape (eh, how?) and the UFO just sorta leaves. Seriously. The UFO just sucked up every man, woman and child in town, but they let these two go free. Why? You'd have to assume that they have some sort of sensors to detect humans, right? How else would they be able to look in houses and businesses for people to suck up. And what if you hide in your basement, can they suck you through walls (doesn't look like it from the above scene where the beam seemed to have "trouble" even getting the police car out of the narrow alley) or do they send down "hunting parties" of aliens to root them out on the ground (not sure, at no point in this film do we see any physical aliens, probably due to budgetary concerns).

The UFO over the town.

Ok, back up. I forgot to mention that Zach has this funky "amulet" thingie that he's had for a while, since he was about four-years old and had an "alien visitation" late one night. It's only today that he begins to "sense" that the amulet is somehow related to the UFO attacks and all that. They run to the school (?) where Cara surprises us all by going to her locker and pulling out her own amulet! It seems that Cara, too, had a visitation at the same time as Zach and she too has been carrying around this amulet ever since for some reason. They put the two together and it goes "blip", but it's obvious that it's missing a third piece.

I'm just going to explain everything here (might as well) so we can get this movie over with, ok? 250 million years ago those dudes in that crashed spaceship died, but their "souls" flew out and "traveled forward in time" to the year 1984. There, they "inhabited" the bodies of two little toddlers (Zach and Cara, duh) and an adult named Bob (more on him later). They were to grow up in time to defeat the coming alien invasion (which would be now) and they've been secretly mentally preparing them for this mission. I know, I know, sounds overly complicated for such a lousy b-movie, but I think the script writers thought they were working with better material than they were.

Those amulet things, which you wonder how they managed to keep for so long, my kids lose their toys ten seconds after they get them.

It's Cara who notes the similarities between that comic book (remember?) and what just happened (the alien ships are identical and their method of attack is the same). They look up the comic's author, someone named "MK Ultra". And yes, that's the old CIA plot from the 1950s, one of those iconic (if bogus) UFO conspiracy coup sticks that those type of people will quote ad naseum to you if you ask them or not.

Another page from the comic.

Cara calls...somewhere, and gets the real name and address of MK Ultra, who helpfully lives in nearby Chicago. Now, they don't bother calling the police or the FBI or the Boy Scouts or anyone, even though they are the sole survivors of an alien attack. Their reasoning is that "no one will believe them" because Zach already is a known UFO faker. I hope that if you are smart enough to use a computer to find my website, then you have enough brain cells to see how fucking stupid that is.

These two are retarded (and her hair is a different color, so this scene might have been a pick up).

So, they get in a station wagon and drive down to Chicago. At his palatial mansion, they meet MK Ultra, who is currently drunk off his ass and passed out. MK is played by 32-year old Canadian actor Gordon Currie, who was both Brad Pitt's former roommate and once a Ronald McDonald clown (I don't make this stuff up) in addition to being in a bunch of films I've never seen.

MK Ultra.

It turns out that MK didn't come up with the idea for the UFOs and the aliens and all that rot. He was a starving graphic artist moping floors at a local insane asylum when he met an inmate named Bob. Bob was convinced he was a reincarnated alien (and he is) and his extremely detailed ramblings got MK's attention. All of what he wrote in this comics came from his interviews with Bob, though he claimed it was his own.

Talking around the dinner table.

Bob, of course, is played by 46-year old Mark Hamill, far on the tail end of what you would have presumed to have been a stellar career post-Star Wars, but in reality he has done little of note in the years since 1977 (Why? Who knows, but Ford was the only principal from Star Wars to escape the curse). In our movie he's bloated and lethargic, with blood-shot eyes and meth-addict skin, and he seems to be mailing in his line-reads with virtually no concern for the other actors, who, while hacks, are at least trying to put in a good show with their limited skills.


When asked, MK says he has the missing third part of that amulet, given to him by Bob for safekeeping. Once all together, the amulet starts to hum and vibrate like an iphone on crack and suddenly shoots out a holographic image! It's a line of alien-ish symbols, which MK recognizes as an alien language (from Bob, who scratched a few notes down for him in this notebook that MK conveniently keeps right by his dinner chair). The message fades quickly, but they are able to write down some of the symbols before it's gone.

The hologram.

Now, the amulet apparently gives off some sort of unique signal or radiation signature, which is picked up by the badguy UFOs out there in space, and a single ship comes zipping down to hover over the mansion. The butler goes out for a look-see and is fried by a beam of energy! Why the aliens chose to kill this poor dude instead of just sucking him up like they did all the other humans so far is not said, but they are clearly pissed.

The UFO over the mansion.

And again, Zach and Cara (with MK in tow) escape from the UFO by running a lot and crouching down every time the aliens' "motion sensor beam" washes over them. I swear, these aliens are the dumbest creatures in the universe. Didn't they detect an alien signal from the amulet? Shouldn't they be concerned that a signal of their eternal hated enemies has popped up on the planet they are about to invade? Shouldn't they, oh I don't know, make more of a concerted effort to investigate this potential invasion-ending development?

Running for dear life, note that MK's mansion seems to be in a run-down industrial area.

They need answers, so they go to see Bob at the mental hospital (the Sunnydale Resting Home, an obvious Buffy reference) where he's been for the last few years. The meeting does not go well and they are forced to leave after Cara gets all preachy on the doctor (emo kids never learn). Still, Zach is sure that Bob's mind is not too mushy to be of help.

Zach and Cara chat with the doctor, who looks like High Commander Dick Solomon.

That night, they sneak back in to break Bob out, taking advantage of MK's knowledge of how the place is run (he also has his old security door key, which you'd think they would have wanted back when he quit). On the way out, Bob takes a moment to assault an old doctor who was just trying to do his job.

Bob beats up an old man, how heroic.

Now, that hologram with the alien language was map coordinates, says Bob with certainty (they show him what they copied). The problem is that they didn't get enough of the message to get the full coordinates (the seconds are missing) but they know they point to somewhere in south-western Wisconsin. Hey, I got an idea, why not just use the amulet again and have Bob read it from the beginning? They still have the amulet (we see it later), why would they assume that the message only plays once?

The map, finger helpfully pointing to west of Madison.

So they pile in the car and drive out to the area. Not surprisingly (for this movie) there is nothing there but a wide muddy corn field. Bob says this is the best they can do without the full coordinates, which might put them a hundred miles away. Cara goes nuts now, storming off to rant and rave about the folly of man and about how the aliens should nuke them all because we humans make Styrofoam cups (shut the hell up already, emo kids annoy me).

Cara and her cup, indicative of all of humanity's ills, apparently.

Just then an F-15 jet flies over, skimming the ground at maybe a hundred feet! It then does some acrobatic barrel rolls and zips off (what the hell?). Zach makes the link in his head to the USAF guys that came to visit him a few days ago. The actual jet has no part in our movie, just a bit of stock footage goodness to move along the storyline in a most contrived way.

F-15, and yes, this is the best cap I could get of it, go get your own website if you don't like it, ok?

They go to "a secret military base" somewhere and scope it out. How they know where to go next is one of those "it's written in the script that way" moments that we're not supposed to question. This was certainly filmed at some CFB in Quebec, but it's supposed to be somewhere in America (probably Wisconsin as they only had a few hours to get there before nightfall). The place is crawling with armed guards and there are a bunch of heavy-lift trucks parked around a big hanger. The trucks all have "UN" painted on their sides, which is kinda strange.

Watching the base from a nearby hill, which shows what lousy security this place has (which is criminal considering what we will learn about the place), and we also wonder where they got those bigass Ziess binoculars from.

To gain entrance to the base, they hijack a military cargo truck on a lonely country road. The lone driver is thumped on the head by Zach and tossed in the trunk of the car (which is played for laughs, but it's oddly disconcerting to see this heretofore wimpy geek kid brutally slam a grown man's head several times with a car hood until he's unconscious and then smirk about it to Cara, who looks on in admiration).

About to nearly kill a uniformed member of the armed services.

Bob takes his uniform and gets behind the wheel while the other three hide in the back, which is filled with food supplies for the base. They make it past the base perimeter security (which as we see later is a joke, even though this place should be the most heavily guarded spot on the planet) and get far into the facility before they are found out.

Bob behind the wheel, bluffing his way past an aught-to-be-court-martialed MP.

Pursued by MP jeeps and even a Huey chopper with a spotlight, they make a game run of it. But there are too many black-shirted beret-wearing soldiers with M-16s to make any chance of escape negligible (though notice the prop rifles that only fire semi-automatic blanks, very obvious). Bob takes a bullet and dies dramatically, saying, "It's up to you now, Zach." as he crashes into a parked fuel truck. In the darkness and confusion, Zach, Cara and MK manage to get out of the back of the truck and escape behind some barrels. It seems incomprehensible that they could run across the open tarmac like that without being seen, but there you go.

The truck on fire.

The three of them enter the main hanger, which seems disused and empty. They nearly give up before they find a hidden (in plain sight) control switch that raises a sublevel floor on an elevator! And on this elevator is an extraterrestrial spaceship! It is, of course, that same Fighter that we saw in the opening scene crash into the ocean 250 million years ago (alien corrosion protection technology is awesome!).

I might as well give you all the pertinent facts about the Fighter, to save you from staying up nights wondering. It was found 15 years ago by Eskimos in northern Alaska and brought down here to be studied by the best scientists in the nation. It's existence is rated "cosmic top secret", which doesn't explain why three civilians were able to penetrate their security with relative ease. And why bring it here, to southern Wisconsin? Why not somewhere more secure, somewhere more isolated, like Area 51? They already have the Roswell craft there, right?

I should also note here that in the pre-credits prologue scene, the voice-over states that this Fighter is called "Laserhawk", which is the one and only time that name is used the entire movie.

The Fighter in the hanger (best cap I could find of it, sadly).

Using the amulet (which acts as a key of sorts, though we wonder how they knew this) the three of them enter the ship and look around. The interior cockpit set is typically Star Trek, with glass panel displays that light up when they touch them, whooshing doors, and grates on the floor. The lighting is poor in this scene, which probably is a good thing as the set isn't really that impressive.

Zach sits in the command chair and starts touching stuff.

Ok, whoa, whoa, stop. Way back when the USAF guys came to interrogate Zach over his fake UFO prop, this didn't hit me. But now I see that the military was intrigued how a kid from Wisconsin came up with a design eerily identical to their super-secret alien Fighter that they dug up 15 years ago. Ok, but didn't they also wonder how MK Ultra the comic artist also came up with the same design? Didn't they go and question him? Did they and he just didn't let on about his source Bob? So many stupid loose ends in this movie.

While they are marveling over all this neat stuff, they are caught by soldiers, who figured someone was in here after seeing all the lights on and stuff (and the fact that someone raised the hanger floor to expose the Fighter).

Captured by Colonel Teagarden and some dude with a submachinegun.

The three of them are interrogated by a parade of USAF officers, some of whom believe them while others don't. This is the weakest part of an already weak film, as a number of actors ham it up in their two minutes of movie fame and the "action" drags to a slow crawl too late in the movie. The flow of this section is typical of those kiddy movies where the teenagers are vastly smarter and wiser than the adults, and if it were not for one sympathetic adult, the poor misunderstood kids would never be listened to. I assume any teenagers in the audience would at this point be nodding their heads and casting sideways glances at their clueless parents.

Interrogated by the stupidhead adults, parents just don't understand, man.

Hard to see, but behind Teagarden is a framed headshot of Bill Clinton, which is a funny little bit of pandering, ala Killers From Space.

Eventually, the military brass agree that these kids are their best chance at survival. They outfit them with tight-fitting spacesuits, just like the ones we saw on the Fighter crew from the prologue. Time out! I know they want us to think that these suits were found in the ship, but that's bogus. They said clearly that no one had been able to open the hatch for 15 years before the kids showed up, and when we saw the kids in the ship there were definitely no bodies, even though in the prologue we saw the three crewmen clearly still strapped into their seats as their "spooky souls" left their bodies, so I wonder where those suits came from. I think too much.

Those suits.

Now Zach and Cara, being all full of alien goodness, instinctively "know" how to operate the ship's controls (though MK doesn't, but still manages to figure it out very quickly). They take off from the hanger in a blaze of blue engine exhaust and fly off to fight the badguy UFOs, which are currently massing in orbit.

I won't describe the battle in detail, so as not to ruin the "thrilling action" of Laserhawk's "money scene", but suffice to say it owes much to 1984's The Last Starfighter and 1995's Independence Day. The kids in the Fighter, relying on knowledge they shouldn't have, rout the enemy armada. In the crowning moment, Zach actually says, "We need to purge our back-up generators, with enough thrust we may be able to create a gravity well!", which has got to be the greatest line ever uttered in all of cinema.

Space battle!

And because the producers had seen Independence Day a few years before, we have a copycat scene where they come upon the "Mothership", which tractors them aboard. And like that much better movie with that Will Smith guy, our heroes blow up the Mothership with a missile launched in a sneaky fashion, after coming face to face with the spider-like aliens. The Mothership goes ka-boom as they barely escape, saving the Earth from certain depopulation of humans and repopulation by cockroaches and duck billed platypuses and moose and other animals without social constructs and BMW dealerships and Styrofoam cups and stuff. Because, as Cara told us, those things are bad.

The Mothership.

The movie ends as some more of those spooky soul energy balls swirl around them and "talk" to Zach. He relates that the balls say that, "there's another plant in trouble, they need us". They all agree to head off into deep space to become intergalactic peacekeepers or something. Please tell me that this wasn't a failed TV series pilot?

The End

Written in May 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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