Don't Ask Don't Tell Movie Review
I wrote What's Up, Tiger Lily? above, but was it Mystery Science Theater I really wanted? The presence of bobble-eyed aliens in the (apparently incredibly bad) original footage forces the comparison. Did the first director really use ping pong balls for eyes, as the new director (Doug Miles) suggests? The jokes here connect with less frequency than Allen's did, and the humor runs the gamut from pretty good to dinner theater, with the occasional obscure reference thrown in, just as it was MST. (It seemed to me that Hannah Arendt, author of Eichmann in Jerusalem, was mentioned any time I tuned in to MST; in Don't Ask Don't Tell, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room is brought into the fray, and although I wish to be corrected if I'm wrong, I don't believe that the title is one that comes up every day.)
MST originated on television, and What's Up, Tiger Lily? came out in 1966. The difference in forum and year gives Miles and his writer Tex Hauser access to a wealth of content that their forebears simply couldn't have used. (They also insert newly-filmed footage; that this includes a few gratuitous boob shots that reflect the filmmakers' hopes, I'm guessing, of attracting the lucrative 18- to 25-year-old male demographic.) Part of the payoff for this is that it's startling - and thus funny - in any context to see Peter Graves deliver the line, "I've got to go down on a man right away. Don't you agree?" The downside is that much of Don't Ask Don't Tell is sophomoric even beyond what the premise requires.
Speaking of the premise, if it makes you uneasy to think that you might be asked, in Don't Ask Don't Tell, to enjoy one too many laughs at the expense of gay men, you can relax. In the opinion of this critic, the film is ultimately rather charming in its inclusiveness, its primary target being homophobia as opposed to homosexuals.
Don't Ask Don't Tell gets off to a rocky start; it conveys a franticness in these opening scenes, as though the writer was afraid of losing you if he didn't come out of the gate with a bang. But it calms down and, although a plot is slow in developing, the scenes that would have been filler in Killers from Space are the funniest in Don't Ask Don't Tell. Here we have regular conversation, and the freedom from plot advancement gives Hauser the opportunity to script a few zingers: A subplot about dope, in particular, flies.
Ultimately, Don't Ask Don't Tell comes off as a little strained and there is little of the new footage that I couldn't have lived without. So be it. It's harmless at worst and at best a good time. The DVD edition includes undoctored scenes from Killers from Space (these few clips make you grateful to be spared the feature), as well as a rather too madcap commentary track.
Aka Aliens from Space, Killers from Space.