On the night of Feb. 20, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower interrupted a vacation in Palm Springs, Calif. Some say he made an unexpected visit to Edwards Air Force Base. There, in the secret meeting to end all secret meetings, he rendezvoused with a pair of angelic, white-haired, blue-eyed extraterrestrials, who cautioned the president — to no avail — to eliminate his country’s nuclear-weapons program.
At least that’s the theory that UFO enthusiasts have promoted over the decades; the more prosaic explanation is that Ike required emergency dental work that night. But the lack of documented evidence for this more commonplace departure has allowed the ET hypothesis to blossom in the UFO mythos. A Google search for “Eisenhower aliens” yields 1.2 million hits, and the alleged confab has been mentioned in academic books and articles by papers of record.
Now there’s a movie about it, sort of, from writer-director Christopher Munch, whose supernatural scholarship is unimpeachable. His previous feature Letters From the Big Man was a serious take on the Bigfoot mythology, and his latest, The 11th Green, situates the Eisenhower encounter as one moment, pivotal though it may be, in a 60-plus-year conflict between gaslighting, deep-government suppressors of a world-changing alien presence, and the intrepid investigators and whistleblowers determined, with sometimes fatal consequences, to disclose the truth.
Munch has done his homework on the subject, and his heart is in the right place. But The 11th Green buckles under its tectonic ambitions, straining for coherence as it weaves together its fraying threads.
Much of the picture is set in the present day, where alternative-media journalist Jeremy Rudd, played with borderline somnambulism by Campbell Scott, travels to the high desert of California following the death of his estranged father, a retired Air Force general and a member of numerous deep-government shadow organizations. Jeremy, who runs a left-populist news program in the vein of Democracy Now!, doesn’t see eye to eye with his dad’s ex-military friends, a cabal of patrician country-club racists. But he does meet a former intelligence spook (Currie Graham) who leads him down a rabbit hole of ET conspiracies, and a potential love interest in his father’s assistant (Agnes Bruckner), who harbors her own secrets.
Chief among the problems of The 11th Green is that Munch’s script, peppered as it is with durable conspiracy-minded terminology like “special access programs,” “cognitive dissonance” and “black projects,” never approaches the rhythms of real conversation, and his protagonist is given scant internal psychology or even basic personality traits. Munch’s direction is no more convincing, with wooden performances from even superb character actors like Scott.
Things do not approve when the movie flashes back, with black-and-white affectation, to Eisenhower’s (George Gerdes) storied meeting with an alien named Lars and his post-presidency desires to reveal this information to the public. Leaving aside some of the script’s crasser dialogue attributed to the 34th president (“We have time to mount an offensive,” he quips, as he and Mamie prepare for some afternoon delight), scenes of Ike’s internal struggles of disclosure teeter on self-parody; he actually utters the words, “I knew too much.”
The recipient of this hoary line is none other than Barack Obama (Leith M. Burke, a dead ringer for 44, and the movie’s only rock-solid performance). In one of the film’s weirdest detours, set in the lame-duck twilight of Obama’s presidency, Munch imagines an alien-themed tête-à-tête between the two presidents, their legacies intertwined in a mystical dream they shared, which manifests through some seriously cheesy 1980s-style special effects. The best/worst line that departs Obama’s professorial lips? “You’re not even physiologically incarnate at this time.” Zing, I guess.
Though it wants to have the impact of a nonfiction film like ufologist Steven Greer’s compelling Netflix doc Unacknowledged, Munch’s speculative fiction is too clumsy and scattershot to win converts to its cause. It’s a dorm-room bong hit of a film, narratively undisciplined and presented without an iota of dramatic tension. It’s as if the movie were designed to screen primarily at UFO conferences; had they not all been canceled due to COVID-19, it might have found an audience at a few of them. But to the discerning critic, this movie is as lost as the physical evidence of the night of Feb. 20, 1954.
THE 11th GREEN. Director: Christopher Munch; Cast: Campbell Scott, Agnes Bruckner, George Gerdes, Leith M. Burke, Tom Stokes, April Grace; Distributor: Ryan Bruce Levey Film Distribution; Not Rated; Opens: Friday, July 31 at Virtual Cinemas including Coral Gables Art Cinema