A run-down neighborhood is being bulldozed by property developers but one block of tenants would rather stay put. When the developers bring in some heavy persuading tactics, the tenants (led by the ageing Rileys, played by Cronyn and Tandy) are thrown a lifeline by tiny extraterrestrial visitors.
Add equal parts of Cocoon’s octogenarian revamp and E.T.’s genial alien therapy, the merest sprinkling of trite robot-as-human prattling Short Circuit, undercook on a low creative heat and serve mentioning the fact Steven Spielberg is, unfathomably, involved at some blueprint stage. Thus, you end up with this perky but pointless rehash of the cute alien format that became embedded in the late ‘80s.
Makeweight director Matthew Robbins, running with an idea from Spielberg, is working on the basis that making things smaller will always make them far more endearing. These flying electric tin-lids with blue headlamps for eyes are supposedly alive in some respect. At one point, they even multiply producing even weenier hovering pie dishes, on which to lavish our aw-shucks reactions. Are we really that susceptible to sentimental prodding that we’ll buy into a family of alien frisbees with a heart?
They are, to be fair, assisted by some talented human beings, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as the elderly couple who need saving by these hard-wired pie-dishes, give it a strange sense of plausibility, or at least, a sense of purpose. After all, it is just a silly fairy-tale set in a bullying modern New York of scowling real-estate developers, where the magic of these winking micro-bots is enough to send them packing.
Although pitched at kids’ love of gadgetry, and the effects are convincing (although, you suspect, with plenty of batteries involved) the film is rather heavy-handed, and suspiciously racist, with its Hispanic hoodlums, recycling the wan platitudes of do-gooder aliens being just a wish away.
A quaint and miraculous tale that hits most of its notes and keeps alive the charm of Close Encounters, Gremlins and, of course, ET.