Monday, September 13, 2021

Best Seller and Alien Nation: Cop Buddy Films with a Twist

James Woods and Brian Dennehy.
Best Seller (1987).  Cleve is a professional killer who feels he never got the respect he deserved from his ex-employer, a powerful corporate executive. To gain revenge, Cleve (James Woods) approaches Dennis Meechum to write an exposé about the corrupt businessman who used Cleve's services. A police detective who once authored a non-fiction bestseller, Meechum (Brian Dennehy) is skeptical at first. Gradually, Cleve persuades Meechum that his tale is true; it "helps" that suddenly both men become the targets of murder attempts.

Made in 1987, Best Seller is mostly a study of the relationship between Cleve and Meechum. Granted, there are the requisite action scenes and a climax filled with multiple corpses, but that's not the focus. Instead, Larry Cohen's screenplay explores the rocky "friendship" between a smooth, charming, vicious killer and an honest cop struggling to be a single parent. The strength of Cohen's script is that it dupes into believing that Cleve may not be so bad, then shows him performing a cold-blooded, needless murder. Like the audience, Meechum eventually becomes intrigued with the engaging killer--but he's smart enough to never fully trust his new ally.

Coming off a Best Actor nomination for Salvador (1986), James Woods pulls in the audience with his riveting portrayal of Cleve. Brian Dennehy provides an effective foil, but his role is less showy. Best Seller belongs to Woods and his compelling, creepy character.

It's not a brilliant film. There are too many gaps in logic, such as when Meecham--whose life has been threatened--leaves his teenage daughter home alone. My recommendation is that you overlook its faults and watch Best Seller to see Woods at his best.

Mandy Patinkin as Francisco.
Alien Nation (1988).  In 1991, Los Angeles is the home to 300,000 aliens who arrived three years earlier when their spaceship crashed on Earth. Labeled Newcomers, the aliens are humanoid in appearance and have been partially assimilated into American society. Treated as slaves on their planet, the Newcomers have embraced their new freedoms. Still, they are viewed by many humans as a race to distrust and even fear.

Police detective Matthew Sykes (James Caan) loses his partner when they intervene during a convenient store robbery in Slagtown, the slang name for a Newcomer community. Determined to find his partner's killer, Sykes volunteers to team up with Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin), the first Newcomer to be promoted to detective. The prejudiced human gradually realizes that his new partner is intelligent and dedicated, even if he does have a propensity to follow the rules.

James Caan as Sykes.
With Alien Nation, screenwriter Rockne O'Bannon (Farscape) goes to great lengths to create a new world--and then does little with it. He litters the story with fascinating tidbits about the Newscomers: their favorite foods include raw beaver; they can breathe methane; they can master the English language in three months; and consuming too much sour milk makes them drunk! Alas, none of these revelations factor into what is essentially a boring a plot about a businessman trying to start a drug racket.

Mandy Patinkin is entertaining as Sam Francisco (whom Sykes calls inside joke since the producers were not allowed to use the name George Jetson). James Caan provides a nice foil, but he has played roles like his independent, grumpy cop far too often in his career. In the end, they make Alien Nation watchable, but not especially memorable.

The film did spawn a short-lived TV series and five follow-up television movies starring Eric Pierpont as Francisco and Gary Graham as Sikes (now spelled differently).


  1. Haven't seen Alien Nation but remember Best Seller rather fondly. At one point I somehow conflated it with F/x - probably because the two films were released around the same time, were both thrillers and - Brian Dennehy.

  2. I haven't seen this movies (yet) but remember the title Alien Nation (perhaps due to the TV show) but Best Seller didn't ring any bells. Thanks for reminding me about the movies I must add to a "catch up" list.

  3. Both films sound intriguing, although I'll probably seek out Best Seller first. I always liked James Woods and Brian Dennehy.