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Sundance movie review: 'Maika' obnoxiously rips off 'E.T.'

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Sundance movie review: 'Maika' obnoxiously rips off 'E.T.'
Lai Truong Phu (left) makes friends with the alien Maika (Chu Diep Anh). Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The Sundance Film Festival always includes a few family friendly offerings. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese children's film Maika: The Girl From Another Planet, which screened virtually, probably won't cross over to non festival audiences.

Hung (Lai Truong Phu)'s mother dies and his best friend My (Khanh Nhur) moves away. Hung's father, Thanh (Ngoc Truong) doesn't want to move out of their family home, even though gangsters are paying people to leave, and threatening those who won't.

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The answer to both problems may be the alien Maika (Chu Diep Anh) who arrives on Earth after a meteor shower. Hung befriends Maika and teaches her about Earth while helping her call her mothership. Maika, in turn, uses her powers to help battle the gangsters.

Maika is too derivative to compete with the Hollywood equivalent. Its target audience has still seen E.T. on DVD, even though it's 40 years old. And Maika really copies every beat from that beloved alien friendship movie.

But Maika doesn't just rip off E.T. The gangsters are cartoonish villains who get their comeuppance against precocious children as in Home Alone and its many knockoffs.

The makers of Maika seem to know they cannot compete with Hollywood visual effects because they minimize instances of Maika's alien form. Still, when they do it calls attention to how little they can accomplish digitally.

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Maika arrives on Earth as a fluorescent alien, but when she steps, the ground doesn't move under her feet at all. Later, Maika creates a bubble to protect her and Hung, and it looks like they've been copied and pasted from Photoshop.

The young actors are good. Truong breaks your heart establishing Hung's sad life, to the point he even offers to skip dinner to help his father save money. Chu is appropriately innocent as Maika learns about human emotions. As contrived as that is, she performs as asked.

A neighbor, Beo (Tin Tin) is broader but that's intentional. Unfortunately, the film's climax devolves into nothing but shrill screaming.

Showing Maika: The Girl From Another Planet as a family option is also tricky since the subtitled translations are prohibitive to any kids under reading age, who may most appreciate the shenanigans. Even if there were a dubbed version Maika would have a hard time distracting international kids from Marvel movie.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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