Nacho Vigalondo's "Extraterrestrial" reps another tricky spin of sci-fi conventions toward unconventional ends following his intriguing 2007 thriller, "Timecrimes."

Nacho Vigalondo’s “Extraterrestrial” reps another tricky spin of sci-fi conventions toward unconventional ends following his intriguing 2007 thriller, “Timecrimes.” Far more humorous in gist than that debut feature, new pic uses a highly conspicuous UFO visitation as little more than a novel context for a droll comedy of errors in romantic fidelity. Results are offbeat and amusing, but also a bit thin as the whole essentially amounts to one long shaggy-dog joke. Sales potential will be hit-and-miss, with sleeper status as well as buyer disinterest possible in various territories.

After what was evidently one hell of a drunken night out, Julia (Michelle Jenner) and Julio (Julian Villagran) wake up in bed together, not remembering each other’s names or even whether they had sex. Given the awkwardness of the situation, she’s at first eager for him to leave. But they’re soon distracted by something a tad unusual outside: a giant spaceship, evidently several miles in diameter, hovering above the city. It emerges that nearly the whole urban populace was evacuated while the two protags were zonked out.

Another who didn’t leave, however, is Julia’s rotund, dweeby neighbor/stalker, Angel (Carlos Areces), who takes an immediate jealous interest in her new friend. His suspicion that they’ve done the nasty becomes an issue with the inconvenient return of Carlos (Raul Cimas), Julia’s long-term, live-in boyfriend. Guilelessly trusting, Carlos wouldn’t accuse Julia of cheating, but scorned Angel is eager to enlighten him. And so, Julia and Julio must keep the b.f. oblivious and the pest muzzled even as their mutual attraction insists on manifesting itself.

It takes a while for these slackerish twentysomethings to engage our full attention, and for the script’s situations to build up a satisfying steam of humorous intrigue and suspense. Always diverting, “Extraterrestrial” nonetheless feels perilously slight at times, its flyweight content and potential claustrophobia (very little takes place outside Julia’s apartment) cleverly lent a more expansive air by Jon D. Dominquez’s widescreen lensing.

Throughout, pic seems on the brink of exploding into something more wildly comical and/or fantastical. That it sticks to its peculiar agenda, one far more akin to mumblecore than sci-fi, is both refreshing and a little disappointing. It never does become clear what the unseen aliens want — are they conquerors, or just tourists? — and otherworldly imagery is limited to those few fleeting shots of the massive vessel above.

Modestly scaled production is sharply turned on all tech and design fronts.

Extraterrestrial

Spain

Production

A Sayaka Prods. and Apaches Entertainment production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Nahikari Ipina. Directed, written by Nacho Vigalondo.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Jon D. Dominguez; editor, Dominguez; production designer, Idoia Esteban; sound (Dolby Digital), Roberto Fernandez. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 10, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Julian Villagran, Michelle Jenner, Raul Cimas, Carlos Areces, Miguel Noguera.

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