Nickelodeon’s first original telepic, “The Journey of Allen Strange: Alien Vacation,” based on the Nick sci-fi series, is designed to kick off the series’ third season with an over-the-top vacation adventure for the an earthbound alien (Arjay Smith). Unfortunately, pic rates only as an overly long version of the series itself and offers no backstory, as it assumes viewers are already familiar with the characters and their history.
Strange was introduced in 1997 by creators/exec producers Tommy and John Lynch, also exec producers on Nick series “The Secret World of Alex Mack” and “100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd.”
With an “E.T.”-esque storyline as a foundation, “Strange” attempts to appeal to the universal kids’ fantasy of befriending an alien and helping in his search for a way to return to his native planet. It makes every effort to bring the thought that aliens truly exist and walk among us to a state of not just believability, but acceptability, actually embracing the visitor as he fulfills his mysterious missions on our planet.
But “Strange” offers little, if anything, new, with some trite and borderline politically incorrect stereotypes peppering the scenario that pits the alien and his Earthly confidants, Robbie (Erin Dean) and her brother Josh (Shane Sweet), against feuding Middle East tribes, each trying to gain control over the Valley of Light, a mysterious and deadly location of some priceless artifacts and alien inscriptions.
It’s classroom serendipity that shows Strange the message from the Valley, and sends him on a journey to Madaria as a swift, and all too easy, stowaway on a Middle Eastern flight in search of a message from his home planet of Xela.
Robbie follows him, fearing for his safety, and the two are locked into the baggage compartment of a jet winging its way to the land of desert and camels. Poor production values are a bone of contention as the jet miraculously transforms into a twin engine prop before landing, and the two elude customs and a passport check by hopping a bus and bumping into a prince. Happens every day.
Meanwhile, brother Josh has been following the radio show of the only Roswell witness, Bellerman Arthur (Eugene Levy), who, after decades opts to retire out of frustration. As the disenchanted believer, Levy delivers some of the only genuinely amusing lines in the pic. Josh blackmails Arthur into taking him to Madaria to save his sister and friend from what turns out to be a government cover-up in the Valley of Light, and certain incineration for all those who trespass into the chamber.
Beverly Johnson has a brief turn as an alien goddess who’s waited 10,000 years for Strange to find her and to deliver the spirit of the great Xela adventurer Benetia to the young boy, who, it is discovered, belongs on Earth for several as-yet unexplained reasons.
“Strange” has its appeal and targets its audience (6-to-11-year-olds) well with light offerings of slapstick shtick, and the comic relief of a buffoon dad (Jack Tate), utterly clueless on the outrageous goings-on around him. It’s a bit tough for adults to take, the jokes are tired at best, and the performances lay flat.
Obstacles are rapidly negotiated and lack any real danger, regardless of the expositional dialog that leads us to believe death is at hand. Some fun visuals bring it all to a climax but wrap it up all too quickly to satisfy.
Tech credits are adequate.