With his copper-colored hair, British teeth and angular look, David Bowie makes an arresting physical presence in his first straight acting gig. But it’s not enough to carry this flat, cliché-ridden story past a small cult audience of true-believers. And it’s not that the ideas, effects & style have dated over the years, the film was just as limp (and limply received) upon release. Oddly, cinematographer turned peculiar director Nicolas Roeg was coming off his best work (DON’T LOOK NOW/’73), and with the same lighting cameraman (Anthony Richmond), though neither shows much of their earlier inspiration. Here, story and presentation are not so much arty as pretentious or sleepy with Bowie’s intergalactic alien traveler building money-churning enterprises (helped by vision-challenged businessman Buck Henry) to bring his little alien family to Earth from a drought plagued planet. But the slippery slope of capitalism, alcohol, sloth, ennui & sex pull him down. BTW, lots of sex & nudity for a spacey Sci-Fi mood piece, with Rip Torn’s babe-collecting research scientist giving up a quick peak and generous footage of a bouncing Bowie appendage. (Alas, a ‘willy’-double.) Not that his relationship with Candy Clark makes much sense with or without sex or that it avoids shabby ‘70s misogyny. (That side of the film really is dated.) Originally released with a couple reels lopped off, the film probably played better that way: More mystification/Less explanation. The fuller cut just clarifies a poverty of ideas.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Bowie, who got thru early films with his distinctive look, found real acting chops in showy support on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS/’86 even if the film was fatally hobbled by a miscast, unengaging lead.