UFO-spotting crazies and their fellow conspiracy theorists have a friend in Dale Sweeney in “I’ll Believe You,” an off-kilter extraterrestrial comedy about the host of the lowest-rated AM talkradio show in sleepy Melbourne, Fla. Originally titled “First Time Caller,” Paul Francis Sullivan’s modest stab at feature directing won’t propel him to the big leagues (the film sat undistributed for three years before opening Nov. 9 in limited release), but should more than satisfy those seeking an inoffensive twist on Farrelly-style silliness. And speaking of twists, audiences generous enough to buy into the premise are in for a decent surprise.
Sullivan, whose most notable previous credit was working as a field producer on “The Daily Show,” rounds up a posse of talented improv comics to punch up an otherwise vanilla plot. Night after night, Sweeney (David Alan Basche, blessed with a natural radio voice and a certain Steve Martin/Phil Hartman-like charm) sits in his sound booth boring listeners with opportunities to call in their latest UFO sightings. The logic, no doubt, is that one legitimate call would excuse countless hours of dead air, but Sweeney’s easily distracted station manager (Fred Willard) sees it differently and threatens to cancel the program.
Rather than rethinking his show, Sweeney decides the only way to stay on the air is to uncover a real, flesh-and-blood alien — which is easier than you might think when you want to believe badly enough. The very next night, an unfamiliar voice calls in and recites a five-minute litany of foreign-sounding gibberish — all the evidence Sweeney needs to declare the stranger a bonafide alien.
Skeptics abound in the form of a sexy scientist (Cece Pleasants), a nutty professor (Mo Rocca) and a local loon (Chris Elliott, who performs his scenes shirtless, while feeding raw chicken to live gators), but Sweeney isn’t easily daunted. Finding the alien shouldn’t be too hard, he reasons, as long as he follows the string of bizarre robberies that started the night of the mysterious call.
Like an extremely lo-fi version of “The Last Mimzy,” Sullivan’s innocuously nutty caper should play well to kids, assuming they don’t require “Transformers”-scale special effects to capture their attention. The alien, as it turns out, looks and sounds an awful lot like “Seinfeld’s” Patrick Warburton, and his ship is only a smidge more sophisticated than Calvin and Hobbes’ cardboard-box inventions.
Pic’s homegrown quality accounts for much of its charm, though tight smallscreen compositions and conspicuous lack of background players belie the team’s limited budget and experience (though they invested in a decent pop soundtrack). At one point, one of Sweeney’s onscreen friends refers to himself as “apparently the only police officer in this town,” and end credits reference a much-needed crowd shot that didn’t make the final cut.