Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Return

Five years after starring in her third Peter Bogdanovich movie and four years after Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER, here is Cybill Shepherd lurching her way through ludicrous sci-fi with director Greydon Clark (WITHOUT WARNING). Produced in 1980, THE RETURN couldn’t find a theatrical distributor, but its PG rating ensured it played frequently on HBO.

Two children and a middle-aged prospector have a close encounter with a hovering spaceship one evening in a small New Mexico town. Twenty-five years later, the little girl (Shepherd) is a scientist working in the big city for her wealthy father Raymond Burr (IRONSIDE), and the little boy (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the town’s deputy under sheriff Martin Landau (NORTH BY NORTHWEST). They meet again during Vincent’s investigation of a series of cattle mutilations, which may or may not (ha ha, no, it’s may) be connected to that long-ago spacecraft and the creepy prospector (Vincent Schiavelli, great as an assassin in TOMORROW NEVER DIES) who strangely hasn’t aged in the last 25 years.

Brothers Ken and Jim Wheat (PITCH BLACK) and Curtis Burch (JOYSTICKS) wrote the screenplay, which is kind of a mess, asking all sorts of potentially intriguing questions and refusing to answer most of them. The premise is strong, but the payoff is weak. What credibility the story has lies in its professional cast, particularly the portly Burr, whose gravitas brings the script’s spacy shenanigans down to earth. By all accounts a warm man, Burr didn’t often get to play that, and he’s a joy to watch in THE RETURN.

Landau’s lawman, who splashes beer on his donuts, is played for humor, but with enough humanity that his fate makes a slight impact on the audience. Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE) is broad as usual, but manages some emotional depth as a local farmer whose cattle is destroyed. Shepherd, never a deep actress, is fine playing a challenging romantic role opposite Vincent (HOOPER), who is unsteady and unfocused due to his alcoholism. Director Clark is bad in a cameo as the first human victim of the cattle mutilators.

For a film that was produced quickly and inexpensively ($750,000 with $400,000 for cast salaries), the stunts are impressive, and the visual effects are pretty good. Clark uses familiar Southern California locations as a reasonable substitute for New Mexico, including the Paramount Ranch, Bronson Canyon, and little Piru, California.

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