Sunday, July 22, 2012

Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre)


Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up in an unfamiliar apartment with little memory of the wild Saturday night he apparently had.  The flat belongs to Julia (Michelle Jenner), who is eager to send him on his way.  As they try to recall the previous evening and each others’ names, Julio and Julia become aware that the world to which they’ve awakened in EXTRATERRESTRIAL (EXTRATERRESTRE) is no longer ordinary.

The downtown Madrid streets are empty.  Neither cell phones nor landlines work. The television is not picking up any signals, and internet access is unavailable.  Then they notice that a massive flying saucer is hovering above the city.  Julio and Julia are able to tune in a radio broadcast to gain some information, although the news that most people have been evacuated and stragglers should remain inside is less than reassuring.

Among those still in the city is Julia’s stalkerish neighbor Ángel (Carlos Areces), who tells them that about thirty spaceships are reported over Spain and untold numbers have appeared all over the globe.  Carlos (Raúl Cimas), Julia’s longtime boyfriend, eventually turns up as well.  He doesn’t suspect Julia and Julio of doing anything improper and believes the story she contrives about spotting Julio on the street and inviting him in.  Carlos is so trusting he insists that Julio stays with them.  Julio and Julia fear that Ángel will tell Carlos the truth about how they know one another, so they convince Carlos that Ángel is really an alien posing as a human.
Although set during an alien occupation of Earth, the science fiction trappings function as a readily apparent misdirect for staging a romantic comedy/drama. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s interest lays not in little green men attacking earthlings but in the disruptive effect an outsider can have on a couple.  The problem is that the interpersonal dynamics aren’t developed sufficiently or invested with high enough stakes for what Vigalondo wants to study to matter.

If EXTRATERRESTRIAL is to explore what might be called Third Wheel Syndrome, Vigalondo needed to bring greater tension to the romantic triangle than what exists.  The mere presence of Julio, the proverbial extraterrestrial, alters the environment, but circumstances have a convenient way of mitigating his culpability. In due time Julia reveals to Julio that she has been with Carlos since she was nineteen and that their relationship was distressed before the spacecrafts appeared. The implication is that the relationship had soured before Julio’s arrival and that he need not feel guilty for whatever is transpiring between him and Julia, regardless of Ángel’s attempts to expose what he views as a tawdry secret.  Meanwhile, Carlos seems oblivious to any potential hanky-panky between Julia and Julio and then, having broken the trio’s agreement never to go anywhere alone, makes it easy for them to ask him to go away.  Despite Vigalondo presenting Julio as the suffering romantic, the emotional burden he is carrying could be shrugged off with little effort. The noble decision facing Julio packs less of a wallop because it feels unnecessary.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL’s combination of romantic comedy and genre movie elements recall SHAUN OF THE DEAD while failing to blend them nearly as well as Edgar Wright’s feature.  Having confined the action to a pocket of the world, Vigalondo’s featherweight film relies on the small but affable cast to be its saving grace, a task they are capable of handling.  With Carlos behaving as though the invasion has drawn out his purpose in life, Cimas is funny kicking into survivalist mode at the expense of all rational thought. As the third wheel supplanted by Julio, Areces adds some amusing moments in his awkward interactions with the others and his bold bids to restore his position, not the least of which involves a tennis ball cannon.  Miguel Noguera gets laughs as a resistance fighter constantly feeling demeaned by the technical ineptitude of those helping him with a UHF broadcast. Villagrán and Jenner are good in their underwritten roles, but the end of life as the characters know it doesn’t feel at risk collectively or individually in EXTRATERRESTRIAL.  Lacking a sense of cataclysmic change in civilization or a couple thus sells short what could have made for a thrilling adventure or a potent metaphor for love.

Grade: C

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