Picks and Pans Review: Communion

updated 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Christopher Walken, Lindsay Crouse

To say that this film seems more effective than the book it comes from is as meaningful as saying that a barrel with a crumb in it is fuller than one that's empty.

Walken (At Close Range) and Crouse (House of Games), two substantial actors, portray real-life novelist Whitley Strieber and his wife, Anne, who contend they have been visited by alien beings of some sort. To be specific, they are of a sort who carry Whitley off to a lab somewhere, stick a needle in his head and send a strange device up his rectum. Fortunately they are friendly, despite the fact that they look—in this film's rendering of them anyway—like either scallions with big, slanty dark eyes or blue, fire hydrant-shaped characters with Muppet faces.

Since Strieber's books about his supposed encounters have been so popular, almost everyone will know from the start of this movie that the aliens aren't going to do anything too mean or interesting, such as squash Philadelphia or invent a new kind of frozen yogurt. So the film's science-fiction value is diminished a bit, despite the fact that the aliens' arrival is eerily staged by Australian-raised director Philippe (Howling II) Mora.

This leaves the audience to pass the time by trying to figure out how convincing the whole tale is when turned into a movie—one that was co-produced and written by Strieber. (There is a vague suggestion that the aliens might have sat in as technical advisers and perhaps gotten in for a point or two, but, sorry, no publicity tour.)

Things seem peculiar from the outset, since the creatures make their first appearance at Strieber's upstate New York country house, which he, in what seems a fit of paranoia, has previously wired with enough floodlights and burglar-alarm electronics to keep a missile silo secure.

Then after the visits understandably start affecting him, his wife and little son (winningly played by 7-year-old Joel Carlson), he consults a therapist. She not only doesn't bat an eyelash at his story, even though he talks ominously about being one of the "chosen"; she also happens to be running a therapy group for people who have reported similar encounters.

The more often the creatures are shown, though, the sillier they seem. By the end, Walken and Crouse's ability to compensate for the flimsiness of the story has dissipated. They are treating the aliens the way Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney treated their children on Family Ties, as sometimes inscrutable but clearly benevolent personalities.

An epilogue notes that the Striebers continue to report visits from their unidentified friends, though no one yet knows what their purpose is or even if they would be willing to do a guest spot with Geraldo. (R)

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