“Extraterrestrial” (2011)

by A.J. Hakari

Picture the layout of your average alien invasion flick. Death and destruction in Act 1, seeking shelter from said chaos in Act 2, triumphant victory in Act 3. Now imagine one where not only is there no real invasion in sight, there aren’t any little green hombres, either. So goes the premise behind Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial, which aspires to be a comedy of errors more than it does to be Skyline: Part Deux, though it’s about as equally “successful” at what it sets out to do.

When scrappy layabout Julio (Julian Villagran) wakes up in the apartment of fetching Julia (Michelle Jenner), neither is sure of who one another is, how they hooked up, or if the preceding night was really spent in the sack together. All they do know is that massive flying saucers have popped up all over the country, and just about everyone in town has long since headed for the hills. But just when Julio thinks he’s got himself a hottie with whom to spend what may or may not be his last days on earth, in comes Julia’s boyfriend (Raul Cimas) and a lovestruck neighbor (Carlos Areces), both of whom Julio tries to nudge out of the picture with a web of lies that needs no help from their otherworldly guests.

It took a good fifteen minutes for me to realize that Extraterrestrial was being played mainly for goofs, not about to do for alien attack epics what Pontypool did for zombie movies. That was no biggie, since I’d previously seen Vigalondo’s groovy physics-bender Timecrimes and knew to anticipate the offbeat. I gotta say, Vigalondo does a pretty sly job at moving focus away from the alien aspect very quickly; all we need are a few occasional saucer shots, and the often hilariously self-serving characters take care of the rest. But fun as it is to see the players (particularly Julio) cling to their relationship dramas even with the possibility of imminent destruction literally looming above them (that the unseen visitors have zero motive at all only adds to the comedy), Extraterrestrial hasn’t a conceit strong enough to supply the necessary dramatic weight.

When I say that Julio gets the hots for Julia out of nowhere, I mean it. No prologue showing their first encounter, no deep one-on-one conversations, no nothing. Extraterrestrial seems like it would have us believe that Julio is in love with Julia just because, which undercuts both the comedic and dramatic tension from the snowballing fibs he tells in the name of being the only bee in her bonnet. It’s probably just part of the joke that this doofus’ lies become more and more elaborate over something as trivial as a girl he barely knows, but Vigalondo has the actors so poker-faced at times, who knows when to chuckle or when to actually care about this bunch. That’s not to say the cast members don’t have their moments in the sun, with the most memorable ones belonging to Areces, whose efforts to weasel his way into Julia’s heart involve no less than a tennis ball launcher.

Extraterrestrial is no true-blue science fiction fable, nor does it intend to be so, though the wicked romcom it does picture itself to be only partially surfaces. I’m tempted to recommend you seek it out just for its sheer oddness, but a more stable tone could’ve made the flick into something really out of this world.