Enemy Mine

The situation is this: A human (Dennis Quaid) and a space creature (Louis Gossett, Jr.) are duking it out in a space battle. Each sustains spaceship damage, and both crash-land on an unexplored and uninhabited planet. They are the only survivors.

It looks like it’s going to be a duel to the death, no holds barred, right? I mean, this movie is called Enemy Mine, after all.

No dice. The movie might better have been called Buddy Mine, because the two creatures become pals. Oh, there’s some bickering at first, but it doesn’t take long before these two are thick as thieves. After they strike up a friendship, they busy themselves more with surviving the harsh volcanic elements of this weird planet than with destroying each other.

So the human Quaid and the reptilian Gossett teach each other a few things about peaceful co-existence and brotherly love, and how it’s always the crazy leaders of this world—er, universe—who make war, not the simple people.

Gossett also teaches Quaid—in scenes more poetically handled than the other homilies offered—about his religion, the bible of which is a small metallic book that hangs around his neck. Gossett sings his hymns in a strange, lonesome lilt.

As cuddly as all this harmony is, it leaves the film in something of a pickle, dramatically speaking. The conflict between these two “enemies” is withdrawn so quickly—except for some weak attempts to inject cattiness into their relationship—there’s no real friction for the film to play with, and the heat goes out of it early on.

It is not until the last third, when the film goes into a conventional suspense plot regarding Gossett’s child (his race is asexual, and so he gets pregnant and gives birth automatically), that director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) kicks in with some driving action. But it’s nothing spectacular, and it’s too late anyhow.

Perhaps the fact that Petersen had relatively little preparation time on the film (he replaced another director) accounts for the queer lack of mood or direction. There’s also evidence that the film’s cozy, cute humor is not his own. It’s awkwardly handled.

The reptilian creature’s makeup, designed by Chris Walas (he did Gremlins), is functional, if not exactly visionary. Gossett, who is completely covered with brown lizard skin, bears a powerful resemblance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. For his part, Quaid, who is starting to sound too much like Harrison Ford, is buried under ragged hair and beard; he’s supposed to look like Robinson Crusoe.

Neither man registers much, although Gossett’s gurgling vocal delivery has its charm. But then Enemy Mine is not really supposed to be an actor’s movie, which brings up an interesting point: What kind of movie was this supposed to be?

First published in the Herald, December 20, 1985

I didn’t realize the extent of the re-shooting; IMDb.com says that Richard Loncraine directed a version of the movie in Iceland, which was scrapped when Petersen came in and shot the whole thing over again with a different emphasis. No wonder the movie feels tired-out.

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