Frank and Faye Riley (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy) are an elderly couple who manage an apartment building in the East Village, but a property developer, having demolished most of the other buildings in the area, threatens to evict everyone. The development manager Lacey (Michael Green) sends Carlos (Michael Carmine) and a gang of thugs to bribe and intimidate the residents into leaving. Artist Mason Baylor’s (Dennis Boutsikaris) door is busted in, a pregnant single mother named Marisa Esteval (Elizabeth Pena) is threatened, and retired boxer Harry Noble (Frank McRae) has his property smashed. The Rileys’ Café in the building is vandalized.
Some tenants succumb to the pressure. Mason’s girlfriend Pamela (Wendy Schaal) moves out. Muriel (Jane Hoffmann) and Sid Hogensen (Tom Aldredge) move to a retirement home in New Jersey and advise Frank and Faye to do the same. But tiny little living spaceships appear in the Rileys’ apartment and start to repair things. They move into the shed on the top of the building and are called the Fix-its. They scare the bejesus out of the thug Carlos. The female Fix-it is pregnant and gives birth to three little Fix-its. One is dead but Faye buries it in a flowerbox and Harry digs it up and brings it back to life by feeding it old TV parts. The Fix-its help in the kitchen of the café and business improves, particularly because of the workers tearing down the rest of the block. Mason and Maria grow to love each other. The father of Marisa’s baby moves on with his band.
Lacey is furious with the delays. Under pressure, Carlos breaks into the basement to sabotage the plumbing and electricity and damages the father Fix-it. The Fix-it family moves out and leaves the planet. Lacey hires an arsonist to damage the building, angering Carlos, who makes it worse, and the building blows up with Faye inside. Carlos rescues her and she is taken to the hospital. The building is now a smoldering ruin. The Fix-it team shows up with a legion of their kind and rebuild the entire building. Faye comes home. Years later, the entire neighborhood is improved, the new developments flanking the beautifully restored older building, and Frank’s café is doing a roaring business.
This is alien playing angel, as they often do. The story was originally supposed to be for Spielberg’s anthology TV series Amazing Stories, but he liked it so much he produced it as a movie, written by Brad Bird (his first script) and directed by Matthew Robins. It’s not a great Spielberg production, but it’s sweet and funny and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy are wonderful to watch. The building was on 8th Street between Avenues C and D, two short blocks from my first apartment, so I kind of feel at home there. The building no longer exists.
Reviews were mixed. Siskel said it was a comic book with the best pages torn out and Ebert said it was better than most of the stuff out there. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy appeared in three more movies after this. Some of the music by James Horner was used later in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Faye’s problem may be more than simple dementia. Her son died in a car crash right after a fight with his father and she never quite got over it. She seems to accept the aliens as part of her fantasies, and through most of the movie she believes Carlos is her son.