The Puppet Masters (1994)

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This flick had a lot going for it: A story by Robert Heinlein; a screenplay adapted by David S. Goyer (well, among others); a cast led by Donald Sutherland, Keith David, and Will Patton; and a bunch of slug-like, mind-controlling aliens. Unfortunately, these wonderful ingredients were thrown together so haphazardly that the result is typical Hollywood fare, complete with an overabundance of car chases, explosions, and choreographed fist fights. The film also demonstrates — yet again — that if you want to save the planet from malevolent alien invaders, you don’t hire young, flirty federal agents (Julie Warner and Eric Thai) to do it. Although the movie does, in fact, revolve around them, these two so-called protagonists mostly just get in the way of their veteran counterparts as their forced, pedantic sexual tension ratchets up, eventually culminating in one of the most awkward and unintentionally-funny shower scenes ever filmed.

The Puppet Masters is not without its charms, however. It does try, earnestly, to respect Heinlein’s thoughtful source material — and it’s chock full of gory, practical effects involving those icky, aforementioned alien slugs. It also features outdated technology from the 1990s, such as floppy disks and pagers, while managing to be entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way.

I adore the genre (as well as the ’90s) but The Puppet Masters isn’t the most solid entry. It’s on-par with John Carpenter’s remake of Village of the Damned (1995). But it’s not as good as Phantoms (1998) or The Arrival (1996), and I really shouldn’t even mention true classics, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), in the same breath.

Even though the alien slugs were awesome and gross, I can’t, in good conscience, rate The Puppet Masters better than Klute (lol). It gets two pot leafs out of five:
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The Puppet Masters (1994)

Klute (1971)

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This is a fine film in many ways. It held my attention, from beginning to end, with its dark, mysterious plot, while the script toyed with some extremely interesting themes and ideas. However, Klute only scratches the ugly surfaces of its taboo subjects, merely highlighting, for example, that call girls can be cultured and complex characters. (Duh.) And that darkness lurks in the hearts of some men. (Surely, we already knew that.) Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that the subject matter has been explored further — and with defter hands — in other films.

Donald Sutherland is a weird-looking dude. But he’s also a great leading man. Jane Fonda is awesome, and I do suppose she deserves the awards that she won for this role. But the scenes in which she’s talking to her psychologist — as well-acted as they are — literally ignore the “show, don’t tell” rule that I try to live by as a writer. The best thing about Klute is Roy Scheider, who plays a pseudo-intellectual, nearly-respectable pimp. But the movie is kind of like Taxi Driver (1967)… if Taxi Driver had been directed by Adrian Lyne.

Before it meanders to a climax, Klute finds time to backhandedly blame its victimized call girl for the violent assaults she endured/unleashed. But my main problems are actually related to the direction and cinematography: There’s not much action in the film, but when it does occur, it borders on disorienting. Also, many scenes are so dimly lit that it’s difficult to discern what’s going on.

I suspect that I should award Klute three pot leafs out of five, but I’m going to be harsh on the technical crew and give it only two:
Pot Leaf Pot Leaf

Klute (1971)