STARRING: Michael Madsen, Sterling Wolfe, Brian Bloom, Dyan Cannon, Shelli Lether, Robert Vaughn

1997, 98 Minutes, Directed by: Richard Pepin

"Oh goodie," my wife exclaimed half-way through The Sender, "there's going to be another car chase." And right she was. In case you haven't caught on, she was being sarcastic. What little plot there is in The Sender serves merely as an excuse to have car chases. Lots of them. There's one a bare ten minutes into the movie when, after a short intro scene, one barely knows the characters. Who to root for? Who are the bad guys? What's happening? Never mind. The producers no doubt wanted a car chase early on and they got it. This gratuitous car chase sets the tone, while watching it, my wife remarked to me, "This is going to be a bad movie, isn't it?" Reluctantly I nodded agreement.

Don't get me wrong - I like car chases as much as the next guy. Except when they are done like in this movie: lacking any hint of tension or imagination and goes on seemingly forever. During said car chase, the lackadaisical hero (played in sleepwalking mode by Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs and Species fame) exchanges blows with a bad guy; the sunglasses that he is wearing never so much as getting slightly skewed - never mind getting hit right off his face! Or at least I assume them to be bad guys. Who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing is never explained. Thereafter they are not so much as mentioned or seen again.

The hero's daughter carries a "genetic deviation" (or at least I think that's what I heard) that allows her to merely teleport objects (like in all those Star Trek episodes) from one place or another. One day she'll be able to transport spaceships across entire galaxies this way. So a shadowy government agency (called "the Company" - the same guys who run the UFO research facility at Roswell in case you were wondering) is out to kidnap her and exploit her abilities. One can understand why - this sort of thing will save NASA billions of dollars! However, it is never revealed exactly what this agency has in mind for her and why it is BAD thing. And it is a BAD thing - because the entire movie consists of the hero and an alien sidekick's efforts to rescue her. In the end everything is blown up and all the bad guys die. End of story.

It's bad all right, but needed have been. The Sender starts off promisingly with a squadron of WWII propeller-driven fighter planes (in 1965! didn't they have jet planes by then?) encountering a huge flying saucer. One of the fighter planes is singled out by a smaller alien craft that pursues it. After trying to shoot it down, the air force plane nosedives into the ocean below. After this moderately interesting intro, the movie too nosedives into the ocean. Nothing is too badly done in this movie. The special effects are okay-ish and so are the various stunts, car smashes, etc. Problem is that the producers should rather have spent some of the stuntmen's money on a decent script and more than "where's my pay check so that I can go home now" performances.

Ultimately The Sender is a latter-day video equivalent of those old crappy movies knocked by the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew. Except it's never really so bad, it's good -  it's just bad.

(The Sender was part of a pretty dismal video night in which that piece of mid-1980s pro-Reaganite homoeroticism known as Top Gun was probably the best movie. Yeah, you know you're in trouble then!)



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