Nukie (1989)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Gamera 3

Space Monster



Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

"I really want to switch HMOs!"
Remember the Nukie craze back in 1993? Do you remember that everywhere you looked, you saw Nukie dolls, Nukie posters, and Nukie pajamas? Do you remember all the products Nukie did commercials for? Do you remember how the movie Nukie stole all our hearts?

Of course you don't, because the title creature in Nukie is a bizarre, disturbing and unspeakably ugly creature. Nukie, who looks like an overbaked Teletubby, is hardly the only low budget E.T. rip-off, but in terms of sheer awfulness, he's in a class all by himself.

Right off the bat you know Nukie is going to be a painful film when you see the credits. The featured actors are not at the peaks of their respective careers (Glynis Johns, who was the mother in Mary Poppins, and Steve Railsback, so arresting as Charles Manson in Helter Skelter), and the tech credits are split between German names and African names. It seems the film was a co-production between Germany and some central African nation (possibly Namibia), and judging by the fractured nature of the finished movie, the project was troubled from the beginning.

Bilbo Baggins wakes up
after falling asleep in the sun.
In the prologue, two balls of light from space crash-land on Earth. The lights are actually aliens, by the names of Nukie and Miko, who were playing too close our planet. Miko is immediately captured by the "Space Foundation," an American space agency that is Not NASA, despite the fact that they drive cars emblazoned with the NASA logo. We can always tell when we're about to see some not-NASA footage, because the filmmakers use an establishing shot of the same modern-architecture buildings before each scene that takes place inside the Space Foundation. Actually, this is remarkably similar to old episodes of Ultraman, in which scenes about the Science Patrol would also be preceded by establishing shots of some modern-looking buildings. Sadly, Ultraman is nowhere to be found in this film -- the closest we get to a giant monster is Nukie, who looks like the Son of Godzilla with skin cancer.

Nukie, who looks like the first successful human-elephant hybrid, crash-lands many miles away in the African savanna, where, after some wandering and much talking to animals, he is finally befriended by two twin African boys who were pulled off the set of The Gods Must Be Crazy. The boys, whose names are Tiko and Toki (or were they Taco and Toca?), do their best to help Nukie (who looks like a shaven Oscar the Grouch dipped in chocolate), but their "best" consists of wandering around the landscape screaming "Nuuukieeee!" whenever trouble arrives. They do this a lot.

If we could plot the course
of this film, this would signify the
onset of the ebola virus.
Meanwhile, the not-NASA people subject Miko to numerous tests. Every now and then the not-NASA scientists will make some declaration about the nature of Miko. And then they will make a declaration that directly contradicts what they just said.

Scientist 1: My God! He's completely impervious to all moisture!

Scientist 2: That means he must be constantly absorbing water through his skin in order to survive!

Okay, we made that bit up, but the actual examples aren't much better, we promise.

Later, Miko escapes from his isolation chamber, though he inexplicably hangs as if he has nowhere else to go. He also has such a good heart that, despite looking like what would be left over if Yoda burst into flames, he manages to befriend the Space Foundation's sentient computer, EDDI. EDDI, played by several Commodore 64s, can talk and hypnotize people, but only Miko (the only baboon ugly enough to frighten his own kind) can teach him to love. This leads to the following conversation between EDDI and one of the workers at Space Foundation:

EDDI: I've discovered I have a heart and feelings.

Pamela: I love it! Who taught you this?

EDDI: Miko.

Pamela: The little boy from outer space?

"So that's what will happen if
Mickey Rooney passes out in
the tanning booth."
No, Miko the guy who runs the deli around the corner! Of course it's Miko the little boy from outer space! Arrgghh! It was at this point that committing suicide began to look preferable to finishing the movie.

Johns and Railsback are present in Africa to spur forward the plot with some thoughtful, powerful acting. Unfortunately, no one explained that to the two Hollywood actors, so they spend their time on screen halfheartedly reading their lines and checking their watches. Sure, Johns wails a little bit for the children and hams it up when she tries to herd frightened natives out of a collapsing building, but in our imaginations, we can see Steve and Glynis kicking back at the local bar between scenes, trying to impress each other with the names of bigger stars with whom they've appeared.

Railsback: Peter O'Toole!

Johns: Ha! Dick van Dyke!

Railsback: Oh yeah? Marjoe Gortner!

Johns: Pfah! Raymond Massey!

Railsback: Raymond who?

This is what Howard Stern looks like
without his wig and make-up.
As critics, we have to make some hard decisions. One of the hardest is to decide which is worse: the movie itself, or the fact that it took the cooperation of two countries to produce it. On the one hand, we feel it safe to say that test animals exposed to repeated viewings of Nukie would develop brain tumors. Our deep-seated feelings about animal abuse (and our lack of credit at the pet store) prevent us from performing these experiments. On the other hand, the sheer amount of money it must have taken to pay Steve Railsback's nightly bar tab, when weighed against the income of Nukie's assuredly miserable video sales, would probably cause even the most hardened Hollywood accountant to shed bitter, bitter tears. Let us take pity on the poor accountant and not discuss the optical effects, the helicopter crash, and the manufacture of (probably multiple) Miko and Nukie costumes, all of which must have cost someone a lot of money. Mysteries like "How did a film like Nukie ever get made?" keep us awake at night. Shivering.

There are some movies, thankfully few in number, which can suck the life out of you. You can be going along, happy, secure in your place in the world. Everything looks rosy, and no one can convince you that the world isn't essentially a good place. And then along comes Nemesis 3: Prey Harder or The Lonely Lady, and suddenly you realize that in order for such a movie to exist everything good and pure in the universe must be dead. Nukie is not that bad. It's much, much worse. We now divide our lives into two epochs: pre-Nukie and post-Nukie, and those two parts are separated only by the brief interval that was Nukie. Will we ever walk in the sun again? We think so, but the therapy will probably be expensive.

Review date: 03/13/2000

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While all American sources list Nukie as being released in 1993, the copyright in the credits says 1989, which explains why Railsback looks younger than we expected. Go back!