Robin’s Underrated Crap: Mac and Me (1988)

mac2It’s not an uncommon experience to feel nostalgic and sit down to watch a movie you liked during your childhood, only to discover that it does not hold up at all. It’s never a pleasant experience to have to say to yourself: “Why the hell did I ever like this?”. But after this experience, what happens when you take things to the next level and decide to re-watch the movie AGAIN? Well, in this particular case, you’ll come to the revelation that the movie is completely and utterly bonkers and feel the urge to write an entire column about it. Chances are you may be familiar with the infamous 1988 sci-fi family film, Mac and Me. Long story short, this is widely considered to be the most infamous example of a commercial disguised as a feature-length film, as even the title (an abbreviation for “Mysterious Alien Creature”) is a blatant plug for McDonald’s. Well, believe it or not, at the age of nine, I actually went to see Mac and Me in a theatre (and judging by the movie’s box office totals, not a lot of other people did). Even at that age, I could tell from the previews that the movie had an awful lot of similarities with E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial.

But here’s the thing: at that time, I had not actually seen E.T.! I was too young to see E.T. in theatres when it broke box office records back in 1982, and some people forget that the movie was not actually released on home video until October 1988. So, even though I was very familiar with E.T. through books and other mediums, I had no way to actually watch the film itself. Therefore, for a few months at least, I had to settle for Mac and Me. But as a nine-year old who loved McDonald’s, why wouldn’t I want to see the film? The trailer had Ronald McDonald himself, for Christ’s sake!

Yes, the first 40 seconds is literally Ronald McDonald speaking to the camera and hyping up the fact that Mac and Me will be his movie debut. Little did I know that 40 seconds would be the approximate amount of screen time that Ronald actually had in the film. But more on that later…

The plot of Mac and Me involves a NASA satellite probe landing on an alien planet to collect rock and soil samples, but an entire family of alien creatures is accidentally sucked up by the probe’s vacuum and they are taken back to earth. This family includes a baby alien who later comes to be known as “Mac”, along with his father, mother and older sister. After the aliens are transported to a military base, they escape. Papa, mama and sister alien wind up in the desert, but Mac becomes separated from them and runs out onto the freeway to cause a massive car crash. Mac then sneaks into a van being driven by the Cruise family, who are moving to their new home in California. You might notice that the suburban neighbourhood the Cruise family moves to looks quite a bit like the neighbourhood in E.T.. And, well… that’s a bit of recurring theme here…

In both E.T. and Mac and Me, the family is raised by a single mother, as Janet Cruise (Christine Ebersole) takes care of her wheelchair-bound son, Eric (Jade Calegory), and his older teenage brother, Michael (Jonathan Ward). Yes, this movie is so shamelessly lazy about ripping off E.T. that the older brother in both films is named Michael! However, the one thing that Mac and Me didn’t swipe from E.T. is exposition because even though there’s a brief scene where you see the family’s father in a photograph, the movie doesn’t bother to actually explain what happened to him. Anyway, after the Cruise family move into their house, Eric soon discovers that the mysterious alien creature has hitched a ride with them, but of course, no one believes him. This leads to the second-most infamous sequence in Mac and Me, as Eric tries to pursue Mac through his backyard, but after losing control of his wheelchair, he winds up rolling down a hill and plummeting off a steep cliff into a lake, where Mac saves his life.

Even if you’ve never seen Mac and Me, chances are that you’re still familiar with that scene. Over the years, it’s become a very popular running gag for Paul Rudd to appear on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and claim he’s going to show a clip from his latest movie, only for them to play a clip of Eric and his wheelchair plummeting off the cliff.

Now, one of the most notable things about Mac and Me is that Jade Calegory, the actor portraying Eric, really was confined to a wheelchair. Calegory had spina bifida and had been wheelchair-bound since birth, and even though this would turn out to be his only film role, it was actually kinda cool for the filmmakers to give a disabled kid this opportunity. But, of course, the wheelchair-off-the-cliff scene is so laugh-out-loud hilarious that they probably didn’t do the poor kid any favours by turning him into a future meme. Anyway, Mac and Me pretty much follows the exact same story arc as E.T.. Eric and Michael befriend Mac and try to reunite him with this family, but a group of government agents soon track them down and try to capture the alien. The two brothers are aided by a young neighbourhood girl named Debbie (Lauren Stanley) and her older sister, Courtney (Katrina Caspary), who happens to be a McDonald’s employee. We know Courtney is a McDonald’s employee because she wears her uniform in virtually all of her scenes. When she first meets Michael, there’s even an exchange about stopping by for a Big Mac. Shortly thereafter, there’s an exchange between Eric and Michael about them being in the mood for a Big Mac. And why is any of this important?

Well, remember when I said that the wheelchair scene was the SECOND-most infamous sequence in the film?

And remember how Ronald McDonald was the focal point of the movie’s trailer?

Somehow, the movie eventually leads to Eric disguising Mac as a teddy bear as government agents follow them to the most epic birthday party EVER at a McDonald’s restaurant. It’s here that the plot comes to a complete standstill as Mac and Me morphs into a completely different movie and showcases a full-fledged choreographed dance number in the McDonald’s! And, yes, Ronald McDonald himself is in attendance. Even though he was featured so prominently in the trailer, his entire role amounts to a very brief and inconsequential cameo. It seems that the entire purpose of this bizarre and surreal sequence is to showcase McDonald’s awesomeness, and the whole thing is truly one of the most “WTF” scenes in cinema history. (And, oh yeah, Jennifer Aniston was apparently an extra in this scene.)

Because Mac and Me can transition seamlessly from obnoxious product placement to ripping off E.T., the scene eventually leads to a chase sequence where Eric and Mac have to escape from the government agents. It’s obvious they were attempting to recreate the magic of the famous bike chase in E.T., but come on… this features a kid in a wheelchair speeding down the freeway and causing multiple car crashes while a rubbery alien sits on his lap! Though I will admit, the sequence is AWESOME with “Yakety Sax” playing over it…

Anyway, if you thought the blatant product placement for McDonald’s was bad, it only gets better. A lot of people thought having E.T. develop a craving for Reese’s Pieces was a bit obnoxious, but that product placement was a measure of subtlety compared to Mac and Me, where the aliens develop a fondness for Coca-Cola. As in Coca-Cola literally SAVES THEIR LIFE! After Mac finds the rest of his family dying of dehydration in the desert, our heroes revive them by feeding them cans of Coke.

If you’ve been watching any of these clips, you’ve probably noticed one of the main problems with this movie: the rubbery bug-eyed alien creatures look creepy as hell and I don’t know how the filmmakers could have thought they would be endearing to children. At the very least, could they have designed them to not look like frail naked people? Seriously, looking at the aliens today, the first thing that comes to mind is old film footage of Holocaust survivors being liberated from the death camps and that’s NOT an association you want to make while watching a kid’s film! Anyway, once the film arrives at its climax, it seems that the aliens have developed a serious caffeine addiction because they soon wind up scaring the shit out of everybody by walking into a crowded supermarket and going straight for the Coke rack. The creatures cause such a ruckus with their Coke thievery that they inadvertently cause a shootout with the most trigger-happy police force ever and Eric winds up getting killed. Of course, the sequence is so poorly edited that I still can’t quite figure out how Eric died. Was he shot? Did the explosion kill him? Did he have a convenient cyanide pill handy to get himself out of this movie?

However, the aliens use their supernatural powers to bring Eric back to life, but apparently, their powers aren’t THAT miraculous since he’s still confined to the wheelchair. The government agents are apparently so moved by this that they decide these scary aliens ain’t so bad after all. Now… as much as Mac and Me rips off E.T., they at least went to the trouble of crafting a much different ending. There is no emotional finale where Mac and his family return home to their alien planet. No, instead, Mac and Me ends with the entire alien family legally becoming AMERICAN CITIZENS!

No, seriously, it does!

Yep, it seems that saving one crippled boy’s life is enough to make the entire planet accept these alien visitors with open arms, so they stand alongside a bunch of immigrants and are legally sworn in as citizens of the United States! While I am glad that the movie was decent enough to have the aliens wear clothes in this scene, they pretty much flush away all goodwill by dressing Mac up in McKids gear. The movie ends with the no-longer-illegal-alien family driving down the freeway in a pink Cadillac as the words “WE’LL BE BACK” pop up on screen. Shockingly, after a domestic box office gross of only $6.4 million, a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0 %, and multiple Razzie Awards, no sequel to Mac and Me was ever made.

So, my overall impression: I liked this movie when I was a kid, found this movie stupid once I entered adulthood, and found it JAW-DROPPINGLY stupid after recently viewing it for the first time in years! The aliens-become-American-citizens ending looks particularly ridiculous today, especially when you consider that they were technically abducted from their home planet. Yeah, I can think of another chapter in history where people were abducted from their homeland and forced to become American citizens.

However, Mac and Me is still must-see cinema because it is truly a one-of-a-kind trainwreck. Some movies blatantly rip off other hit movies and some movies have blatantly obnoxious product placement, but very few films can do both of those things so shamelessly at the same time. For all its silliness, Mac and Me is never boring and frequently hilarious. I guess there’s one main reason I decided to devote a full column to this film: if you’re planning to have children and hope to turn them into “bad movie” connoisseurs some day, Mac and Me might be the first movie to use to start them down that path.

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