Some movies have production problems that lead to them never being completed. Some movies have production problems that lead to them being completed, leading to audiences often wishing that they hadn't been completed. And some, although it's a very small amount, have production problems and come out the other end as a great film that more people should have some fondness for. Enemy Mine falls into the last category.
Dennis Quaid and, a pretty unrecognisable, Louis Gosset Jr. star as, respectively, a human named Willis Davidge and an alien named Jeriba. The two crash land on a planet after chasing one another through space in a dogfight. Because they're enemies, you see. Hence the name.
Using the sci-fi trappings to tell a story steeped in familiarity - adversaries having to work together to survive - Enemy Mine could have easily been transformed into a Western, a crime movie, or any other number of genre choices. There's certainly enough here to make it a great movie, but I'm not sure if those wanting more tech and shiny sci-fi gubbins will come away without at least a small amount of disappointment.
Wolfgang Petersen is the man who ended up in the director's chair, after Richard Loncraine was fired, and he does his usual good work. The film may move at a rather sedate pace, after the narration setting up the universe, and the opening scenes, there's about an hour just focusing on Davidge and Jeriba, but that's no bad thing when the characterisations are so good.
The rapport between Quaid and Gossett Jr. is fantastic, lifting the film to much greater heights than expected. The film is a two-hander, for the most part, and both men make it work perfectly. When others do pop up, even the mighty Brion James, they don't make much of an impression, simply because viewers want to enjoy more time with either of the two leads.
Based on a story by Barry Longyear, the script by Edward Khmara does what needs to be done before revelling in the fun stuff - the bickering between the two main characters. There isn't THAT much depth to either character, yet that's an easy flaw to overlook while enjoying the rest of the film.
Unsurprisingly, considering the troubled production that sent the budget up and up, and the fact that it was deemed "a hard sell", Enemy Mine didn't fare well at the box office when it was released. On the one hand, that's a great shame because it deserved to find a receptive audience. On the other hand, that's not the worst thing to happen because it's now one of those films that people who really like can claim for themselves. I know that's how I view it now, and I'm happy whenever I find other fans of the film praising it (either online or off).