Dir: Jonny Campbell UK.2006. 95mins
Fitfully entertaining, but undermined by its owninanity, Alien Autopsy is muddled anduneven fare which shows yet again how difficult it is for the best Britishcomic talent to make the transition to the big screen. Its stars Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, hugely popular TVpersonalities in the UK, should ensure a robust opening in the UK when WarnerBros rolls out the film nationwide on April 7, but international prospects arefar less rosy.
"You've probably never heardof us," Ant and Dec tell a US documentary maker (Pullman) early on in the film,as if acknowledging that their appeal is largely confined to home shores. Evenin the UK, the reception may not be entirely comfortable. The same Britishcritics who excoriated Sex Lives Of The Potato Men may also be taking their scalpels to Alien Autopsy.
The diminutive duo Ant andDec are lively and likeable screen presences. It's their material that letsthem down, with a narrative that pulls in too many different directions atonce.
In the initial scenes, inwhich US documentary maker Morgan Banner (Pullman) visits the office of MichaelKuhn's Qwerty Films, there is a sense that we are entering self-referential, Being John Malkovichor Cock And BullStory territory.
Disconcertingly, Kuhn (thereal-life executive producer and former PolyGram boss) is played by JohnShrapnel. The film itself is very loosely based on true events surrounding analleged 'alien' autopsy video, presented to the world by Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield duringthe mid-1990s (the pair are briefly interviewed overthe end credits).
As Banner listens to Santilli (Dec) and Shoefield(Ant) spin a yarn about how they came across the footage of an extra-terrestrialexamination performed at Roswell in 1947, the film seems to be building as acomic conspiracy-thriller.
However, with the flashbacksto 1995, in which most of the story is set, the tone changes and the filmbegins to resemble an undercharged British TV sitcom.
The relationship between Antand Dec is akin to that between James Bolam andRodney Bewes in long-running 1970s BBC TV series The Likely Lads. Ant, a desk-bound legalclerk, is the nervous and pessimistic straightmanwhile his best friend Dec, a market trader, is a fast-talking chancer.
The duo call on friends -Preston the butcher, Edgar the undertaker, Maurice the mannequin manufacturer,and Melik the kebab shop owner/aspiring film-maker -to help them shoot the fake alien video after the original 'alien' footagedecomposes. The idea of a group of eccentric ordinary folk coming together on amoney-making scam carries obvious echoes of classics like A Passport To Pimlicoor The Lavender Hill Mob.
Unfortunately, thecraftsmanship, performances and timing here lag a long way behind those foundin vintage Ealing films. Arguably, Alien Autopsy follows in a different, lessglorious tradition of British screen comedy: one that stretches back to theequally chirpy but misfiring films made with popular music hall stars likeGeorge Formby and The Crazy Gang in the 1930s.
Director JonnyCampbell has been earning plaudits for TV shows like Shameless and Phoenix Nights,and handles certain sequences here with plenty of flair: the surreal interludein which Ant and Dec travel to Cleveland to buy Elvis memorabilia and encounterthe mysterious Harvey (Harry Dean Stanton) is both funny and unsettling.
There is also a spectacularmurder carried out in a crop circle and some creepy moments involving US armyofficials.
However, such scenes sitvery uncomfortably next to parochial jokes about office politics, jammy dodgers(a type of biscuit) and lustful Old Age Pensioners. Often, the characterisationbecomes strident and overwrought. The sleek and violent gay millionaire Lazlo (Gotz Otto) is an especially crude caricature as is thehirsute and eccentric scientist Jeffrey (David Threllfall).
The "fake" autopsy itselfforms the centrepiece of the film. It is done with a certain elan, with kebabs, haggis and lamb standing in for thealien's organs and entrails, but the scene stretches too long and soon beginsto drag.
There are some laughs alongthe way. Will Davies' screenplay includes a few sharp one-liners; Hollywoodcomedy veteran Orson Bean gives a scene-stealing cameo as a homeless manpretending to be a former US army photographer and Harry Dean Stanton brings afamiliar spectral intensity to his role as the real photographer of events.
Overall, though, the effectis underwhelming. The plotting is haphazard. There are no strong femalecharacters and certain gags (for instance, Dec making love to a glamorousundercover journalist while Ant tries to block his ears in the adjoining room)rekindle unfortunate memories of British comedy during the Benny Hill era.
Alien Autopsy is an intriguing enough story involving media greed, credulity andmultiple layers of deception - but whether it provides a decent vehicle for acomedy from a double-act like Ant and Dec is another matter.
N1 Film Produktion
UK Film Council
Oral Norrey Ottey
Harry Dean Stanton