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'Extraterrestrial': Hovering between sci-fi and romantic comedy
A movie review of "Extraterrestrial," Nacho Vigalondo's misleadingly billed "science-fiction comedy." It dares to be dryly farcical while keeping its alien-invasion scenario completely in the background — an admirable attempt at thwarting genre expectations that doesn't always work.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Extraterrestrial,' with Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Raúl Simas, Carlos Areces. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains brief profanity). In Spanish with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
Billing itself as a science-fiction comedy, the Spanish "Extraterrestrial" is an exercise in genre-blending that's only marginally comedic while keeping its sci-fi completely in the background. It's a praiseworthy attempt to thwart expectations, but it's also a marketer's nightmare: How will sci-fi fans react when this alien-invasion scenario turns out to be a mildly amusing rom-com wannabe?
It's the second film from Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who made an impressive debut with 2007's cleverly resourceful thriller "Timecrimes." Here again, Vigalondo takes a familiar setup and turns it sideways: As the film opens, the streets of Madrid are empty in the wake of an apparently sudden evacuation. Only a few apartment dwellers remain, including the lovely Julia (Michelle Jenner) and her overnight guest Julio (Julián Villagrán). They partied so much the night before that neither can remember the other's name, how they met or whether they actually had sex.
What they do know is that Julia's voyeuristic neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces) has been spying on them; that her absent boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Simas) has just returned unexpectedly early; and ... oh, yeah, there's a four-mile-wide alien spaceship hovering over Madrid.
A Hollywood blockbuster would, of course, proceed along the special-effects-laden path of "Independence Day" or Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," but Vigalondo's having none of that: As he did with "Timecrimes," he treats a high-concept premise with low-concept economy: We only see a portion of one gigantic flying saucer, and that's the extent of the so called "invasion."
Instead, Vigalondo combines a farcical plot (essentially a love triangle complicated by the loudmouthed neighbor) with a twist regarding the aliens and the purpose of their visit. As comedies go, it's as dry as bleached bones in the desert, but you can't blame Vigalondo for taking another shot at cleverness.