Picks and Pans Review: Fire in the Sky

updated 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

James Garner, D.B. Sweeney

As a spookily enigmatic, Twilight Zone-ish mystery about extraterrestrial explorers browsing around Earth, this is a big, colorful and generally involving sci-fi adventure. But as an Oliver Stone-style, paranoia-driven, contentious-pretentious document intended to prove alien creatures do abduct humans, this dog don't hunt. In fact, it don't even pad out the door.

Sweeney plays Travis Walton, the Arizona logger whose book, The Walton Experience, is the basis for Tracy Tormé's script. Walton contends that he was transported aboard a flying saucer that was hovering over a forest near Snowflake, Ariz., on Nov. 5, 1975. There, the film suggests, he was held prisoner for five days and subjected to a series of experiments, labrat fashion.

For cinematic purposes, director Robert Lieberman concentrates on the investigation into Sweeney's disappearance. Garner—this isn't your noblest moment, Jim—is a state investigator who thinks Sweeney was murdered by his coworkers (including E.T.'s old pal, Henry Thomas). Lieberman hardly portrays these men as credible witnesses—to an alien abduction or anything else. They gullibly read sensational tabloid stories, squabble constantly (and inanely) and are less than cohesive as a group. Indeed, they arc so cowardly that they run off and leave Sweeney at the mercy of the saucer's strange blue-green ray.

Lieberman eventually gets around to flashes showing Sweeney's abduction by creatures that look like hybrids between the clay people from the old Flash Gordon serials, Spielberg's Close Encounters boys and the shmoos from Li'l Abner. Whoever they are, they're not overly hospitable, penning Sweeney up and sticking needles into his eye. Neither Tormé nor Lieberman has the gumption to explain who the aliens might be, nor do they offer any tangible proof of Sweeney's abduction.

But attention, aliens: This movie does provide the perfect peg for your long-awaited visits to Geraldo and Phil. And it's OK to abduct them. Really. (PG-13)

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