Extra-terrestrials may not have landed in New Mexico but they certainly made it to London’s Wardour Street judging by “Alien Autopsy,” a wacky idea so far removed from its target audience the script readers must have been Martians. A (very) light comic riff on the eponymous fake Roswell film, conceived as a vehicle for boyish Brit TV presenters Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, pic will go way over the heads of Ant & Dec’s kiddie fanbase and doesn’t furnish enough laughs for adults, either. Film landed softly in Blighty April 7, and should fade fast in its one key territory.
Deliberately grainy opening sets up a self-reflexive, mockumentary feel that’s typical of the movie’s chaotic ambitions. A U.S. docu crew, headed by director Morgan Banner (Bill Pullman, wry), visits the London HQ of Qwerty Films (pic’s actual production company), where the head, Michael (John Shrapnel, referencing real Qwerty head Michael Kuhn), has arranged a top-secret interview with Gary Shoefield (McPartlin) and Ray Santilli (Declan Donnelly).
Gary and Ray — the real-life characters behind the Roswell hoax, which was aired on Fox Network in August 1995 — have agreed to tell their story, which unspools, post-titles, in flashback, in a much more regular, non-mockumentary fashion.
In this telling (“based on a true story”), street-smart Ray, busted for selling pirate videos, convinces buttoned-up best pal Gary to fly to Cleveland, where Ray’s heard there’s some rare, uncopyrighted footage of Elvis from the ’50s they can make a killing on. Duo track down the film’s owner, Harvey (Harry Dean Stanton, lugubrious), who says he also has a much rarer piece of film, an autopsy on an alien done at Roswell airbase, NM, in July ’47, when he was a U.S. military photog. Harvey wants $30,000 for it.
Back in London, Ray raises the coin from a psycho Hungarian art dealer-cum-drug smuggler, Laszlo Voros (Goetz Otto, manic), but when he runs the reel in his Hackney home it’s virtually blank from decomposition.
On the verge of being deep-sixed by the crazed Laszlo, Ray and Gary hit on the idea of producing a fake replacement with the help of Turkish kebab vendor Melik (Omid Djalili, funny) and his partner, Jasmine (Morwenna Banks). The reel’s a hit with Laszlo and sells like hotcakes to international TV buyers; but that’s only the start of Ray and Gary’s problems.
Film veers every which way, from a shadowy-lit, menacingly-scored conspiracy pic, as Ray deals with Harvey; through a working-class British sitcom, as the boys fake the footage; to a get-rich-quick scam, as they’re besieged by TV buyers and become international celebs.
Helming by Brit TV director Jonny Campbell is often quite classy, as are lensing and scoring. But there’s a black hole at the center, due partly to McPartlin and Donnelly’s lack of bigscreen charisma, and partly to Will Davies’ confused script, which can’t make up its mind whether it’s a comedy, a half-serious parable about the wages of grifting or … whatever.
In a final maneuver, the real-life Shoefield and Santilli (also the pic’s exec producers) appear as themselves in a brief coda.