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Film / Alien from L.A.

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Alien from L.A. is a 1988 science fiction film directed by Albert Pyun and starring Kathy Ireland. It is loosely based on Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, with some minor allusions to The Wizard of Oz.

Wanda Saknussemm (Ireland) is a nerdy social misfit with large glasses and a squeaky voice who lives in Los Angeles and works at a diner. After being dumped by her boyfriend for "not having a sense of adventure", Wanda is informed via letter that her father, an archaeologist, has died. She flies to northern Africa and while going through her father's belongings, she finds his notes about Atlantis, apparently an alien ship that crashed millennia ago and sank into the center of the Earth. Wanda comes across a chamber beneath her father's apartment and accidentally sets off a chain of events that ultimately cause her to fall into a deep hole.

An unharmed Wanda wakes up deep within the Earth to find Gus (William R. Moses), a miner whom she protects from being slain by two people. Gus, who has a very strong Australian accent, agrees to help Wanda find her father, who she believes is alive and trapped underground. Wanda soon discovers that both she and her father are believed to be spies planning an invasion of Atlantis. During her adventures, Wanda's appearance changes from nerdy to attractive (by removing her glasses and using a steam vent to clean her skin). People from the surface world are referred to as "aliens" by Atlanteans, and when Wanda is overheard talking about Malibu Beach by a low-life informant (Janie Du Plessis), she soon becomes a hunted woman and must dodge efforts at capture, both from the mysterious "Government House" and from thugs in the pay of the crime lord Mambino (Deep Roy). Much mention of Wanda's "big bones" are made during these sequences.

Wanda's efforts at escape are aided by Charmin (Thom Matthews), a handsome rogue who (briefly) assists her flight and falls for Wanda. She is ultimately captured by the evil General Pykov (Du Plessis again), who wants to kill both Wanda and her incarcerated father. The Atlantean leader decides to free Wanda and her father, provided they remain quiet about Atlantis. Gus shows up and helps the duo escape while fighting off General Pykov and her soldiers. Wanda and her father board a ship that takes them back to the surface and the film ends with Wanda on the beach, wearing a bikini and a sarong. She refuses the advances of her ex-boyfriend and is soon reunited with Charmin, who inexplicably appears on a motorcycle.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

This film was followed by a sequel, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1989), though it was not originally intended as a sequel. According to the credited director (Rusty Lemorande): "Only the approximately first 8 minutes of the film were written or directed by me. The remainder of the film is actually the sequel to Alien in L.A. (sic) which was tacked on and renamed Journey to the Center of the Earth in order to fulfill contractual commitments by the production company to foreign distributors."

Kathy Ireland appears in a very brief cameo at the end, though Janie Du Plessis returns. The main plot involves a group of kids getting lost underground during a volcano eruption, wandering around for a long time doing nothing, and then some of them winding up in Atlantis.

Alien from L.A. has examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: At the end, Wanda wakes up in the surface world and thinks this, until she notices her father sitting nearby.
  • Atlantis: Hypothesized to be an extra-terrestrial spaceship that crashed and sank Beneath the Earth.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Fairly early in the film, a prisoner is executed by the evil (and paranoid) General Pykov, on suspicion of being a spy from the surface world. It's shot in shadow so we don't know who it is, but the dialog heavily implies it to be Wanda's father; it isn't. Though this leads to a What Happened to the Mouse? situation when the film never bothers to mention just who this man was.
  • Beautiful All Along: Wanda begins the film wearing big glasses and a frumpy dress. Over the course of the film she loses the glasses and gets glam Atlantean fashion, revealing She Cleans Up Nicely. Granted, that requires going with the conceit that Kathy Ireland is plain and unattractive.
  • Brown Note: Wanda's squeaky voice allows her to debilitate a thug by screaming. Unfortunately for her, It Only Works Once.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Kathy Ireland is... Kathy Ireland. But her high-pitched and squeaky voice rends the eardrums. She even weaponizes it at one point by screaming to incapacitate a thug.
  • Disappeared Dad: Prof. Saknussemm drops through a hole into the Lost World in the film's Cold Open.
  • Dull Surprise: Kathy Ireland is the Trope Namer via the MST3K episode, the result of a game during one host segment in which Mike must guess what Kathy's character is emoting. All of the answers are this because of her questionable acting ability.
  • '80s Hair: Just about every character in the film.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: General Pykov is a villainous Lady of War with a sinister eye patch.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: During the closing credits, the news kiosk firmly denies the existence of the upper world or aliens therefrom, then quickly appends that anyone who actually captures an alien would be in store for a large reward.
  • Karma Houdini: Bizarrely, hardly any of the villains get dealt with properly, with Kathy simply running back to the surface and leaving Atlantis to continue to suffer under them. (Though in the sequel movie, peaceful contact and trade between Atlantis and the surface is established.)
    • Besides "Patches" getting knocked cold with a bitchin' left hook.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Everyone in the film reacts to Wanda's/Kathy Ireland's voice. It stops being anything other than kinda mean-spirited pretty quickly.
  • Lost World: Atlantis, buried underground; and the politico means to ensure that it stays lost.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Wanda's boyfriend gets dumped by Wanda after he'd dumped her earlier in the film.
  • Nerd Glasses: Wanda has 'em. Losing them midway through the film doesn't hamper her in any way, and she never replaces them afterward. It isn't clear at all why she even has the things except because the film vainly tries to make Kathy Ireland look nebbishy and unattractive.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • The ridiculous and inconsistent Australian accent employed by Gus.
    • Also, while lying drugged on a table, Wanda loses that annoying squeaky voice for a while and starts talking a bit seductively in Ireland's real (though still rather high-pitched) voice.
    • At the very end, when Wanda dumps her Jerkass boyfriend for good, it's much closer to Ireland's natural register.
  • Released to Elsewhere/Un-person: Because the Atlantian government denies the existence of the upper world, Wanda's escape at the end is treated like this.

The sequel Journey to the Center of the Earth provides examples of:

  • The Power of Rock: How the Atlanteans are defeated, leading to peace and trade with the surface.