Voyage Of The Rock Aliens

Director: James Fargo              
Pia Zadora, Craig Sheffer, Ruth Gordon

Special guest review!

By Michael Sullivan

Has there ever been a vanity project that's actually been good? Whether it be low budget dreck like Cheri Cafforo's Ginger series, or big budget bombs like Battlefield: Earth, I'm hard pressed to think of any In a case like this, a picture really is worth a thousand words that are legitimately good, and not just good in a "so bad it's good" sort of way. Don't get me wrong; I don't have anything against these navel-gazing egofests. In fact, I wish there were more of them. For instance, who wouldn't want to see Life Goes On's Chris "Corky" Burke as a womanizing secret agent, or maybe a saccharine made for TV movie starring Martha Stewart as a misunderstood saint. Sadly, these projects will never see the light of day. In protest, I will hole up in my basement and continually watch the oeuvre of the queen of vanity projects, Pia Zadora.

Admittedly, a good Pia Zadora film is truly a contradiction in terms. But even at their trashy self-promoting worst (see The Lonely Lady and Fake Out for more of trash and self-promotion), they never reach the queasy heights that Voyage Of The Rock Aliens reaches with its desperate last-ditch attempts to showcase Pia's (*cough*) talents.

To make matters worse, Voyage... is a musical that was made in 1984 (and looks like it was extremely dated by 1985.) So not only do we have to watch bad acting, but bad acting performed in parachute pants and Flock Of Seagulls hairdos (plus, there's the always fashionable mullets-for-women look), and not to mention the music that features numbing synth rock and my personal non-favorite, neutered rockabilly. (Which reminds me: Has Brian Setzer ever made music that wasn't a hollow marketing ploy posing as watered-down nostalgia?)

There is one good thing about the movie: If you have an annoying friend who won't shut up over how great the '80s were, show them this film, and feel free to chuckle as they whimper and slowly go into a fetal position. But make sure you avert your eyes, or else you'll be joining them.

I think I speak for everybody when I say that most films could be improved immensely only if they included a video starring Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora, and said video should feature them as two unrequited lovers stuck in the middle of a gang war that pits extras from Fame against male nuns on motorcycles. I've wished for this particular sequence for years, and finally someone was ballsy enough to include it in this movie. Whoever that someone was, thank you.

Once the video ends, we're quickly thrown aboard a guitar-shaped spaceship manned by a crew of bad Devo impersonators (the rock group Rhema) and their whiny ass-grabbing robot. The aliens discuss their vague mission to explore earth, and then beam down in a telephone booth. (Is it a Dr. Who rip-off, homage, or coincidence? Do any of us really care?) Meanwhile on earth, Didi (Pia Zadora) is singing one of her many, many, MANY songs. But this upsets her abusive boyfriend Frankie (Craig Sheffer), not because Didi's singing sounds like a female impersonator poorly emulating Jayne Mansfield's voice, but because (for no explained reason), Frankie only allows his rockabilly band and no one else to perform in the town of Speelburgh. (I guess Hitchcockville and George Lucas Township were too obvious.) Plus, Frankie also displays how tough he is by twitching and blinking a lot.

Did soon grows tired of Frankie tormenting the leather-clad citizens of Unfunny In-Joke Town, and starts to take an interest in the alien commander ABCD (pronounced "absid"), and not surprisingly ABCD instantly falls for Didi and blows up from sheer passion. (Y'know what would really be surprising? A Pia Zadora film that didn't have men going into a lust-fueled frenzy at the mere sight of her.)

Thanks to the alien's knack for poorly ripping-off Devo, they're invited to play at Hidi High's school dance. But ABCD has other plans, and that is to woo Didi away from Frankie. Of course, Frankie gets wind of this, and tries to stop them from play at any cost. Aside from subplots involving Ruth Gordon as a local sheriff pursuing the aliens, and Michael Berryman as an escaped mental patient (surprise, surprise), this is pretty much all the plot there is in this mind-numbingly inane musical.

For a film that was primarily used as a showcase for Pia, it's a little strange that she's barely in it. Oh sure, she's featured prominently during the many musical numbers (which not only show she can't sing, but also proves she dances like an epileptic Ed Grimley.) But that's about it. Oddly enough, the film's focus seems to be on the Rock Aliens, (a.k.a. Rhema), and that was a major mistake. Their total lack of charm and musical ability makes you long for more accomplished musicians, like The New Monkees or Journey, and if that's not enough, we have to put up with their stale fish-out-of-water antics, which play like rejected Balki gags from Perfect Strangers. To round out the feeling of humiliation and desperation, Ruth Gordon plays yet another old person obsessed with sex.

Voyage... isn't a total washout; it's saved by sitcom regular Alison LePlaca's sardonic performance as Didi's tomboyish best friend. LePlaca also seems to be the only cast member able to give life to thunderously dumb dialogue like, "Sorry, exhaust breath!" Michael Berryman is another standout who seems to be having a ball, sending up his image from The Hills Have Eyes. One of the film's highlights is a scene that features Leplaca instructing Berryman on the correct way to clean a chainsaw, while she's being threatened with one. It's a shame these two weren't used to better effect; it might have made the film slightly less torturous.

If it seems as though I have something against Pia Zadora, I don't. In fact, I'm a big fan of hers, and I even own some of her records. (Mind you, they're in-between such golden throat classics like William Shatner's Transformed Man and Chad Everett's All Strung Out.) But the breezy charm she displayed in Fake Out and Hairspray is replaced with a stiff awkward performance. Voyage... is not merely just bad, but bad in such an unmemorably bland way. This is such a major embarrassment, I doubt even Pia's proud of it.

UPDATE: I received this letter:

"I appreciate you spending so much time and energy reviewing a film that was destined to be in the annals of obscurity forever. It either shows a sincere desire on your part, to assuage the "b" movie connoisseur from enduring what may, even for them, prove to be an arduous watch, or you are in dire need of some healthy activities, such as getting outside more often. At any rate, you got everything right in your review except one thing. "Their total lack of...musical ability..." wrong. Though it may be difficult to deduce the musical prowess of said performers in the band Rhema, I contend that all of us (members of the band) have gone on to do notable work in the industry. I personally have worked with Toto, Richard Marx, Fee Waybill, Roger Daltrey and others.

"I am not offended by your assessment of the film. I am merely making a correction.

"Thank you for taking the time to review this piece of s**t film which paid me very well for my time and I hope there are more "reviewers" out there who do the same. Better to have made a film that sucked than to be someone working in a record store, selling Dodger dogs or what's worse, reviewing b-films.

"Marc, Former Singer/Guitarist/Keyboardist/songwriter for the Band Rhema"

UPDATE 2: I received this e-mail:

"I noticed that one of the members of the Schlock POP band from the movie Voyage Of The Rock Aliens responded to your comments that the band lacked musical talent.

"As the drummer in that band, I have been a staff songwriter, developed and produced artists for EMI, MCA and Capitol Records and have been involved the business as a record exec. Currently I am writing songs in Nashville for artists such as Blake Shelton and Gary Allen. And I still agree with your assessment that the music in that movie showed a great knack for pushing buttons and programming one finger keyboard lines less and not much about the real talent of the individual members. We had very talented musician in the band and both Marc and Craig and myself continue to work in the music business. Surprisingly, not as actors! Our lack of ability contributed to that pile of fecal they tried to pass as a movie.

"Funny thing is, at the time, we as a band thought it was all so important. Dressed like clowns but we thought we were the next Monkeys. Come to think of it...we were monkeys"

Jeffrey Casey (FGEE)

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See also: Invader, Revenge Of The Teenage Vixens..., Robotrix