March 11, 2005

Phil the Alien

Directed by Rob Stefaniuk Starring Stefaniuk, Joe Flaherty and Graham Greene

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Even with its paranormal festival expeditions at Toronto and Slamdance, Phil the Alien seems otherworldly when probed alongside archetypical Canuck cultish sci-fi specimens such as Cube or David Cronenberg’s films, It somewhat resembles the campy Howard the Duck and Earth Girls are Easy for emitting that lame F/X and cheesy humour circa 1980s. The story concerns alcoholic extraterrestrial Phil (Rob Stefaniuk), who crashes into northern Ontario and the local populace of trailer-park boys and hookers. He befriends a beaver, hangs out at a tavern, and becomes frontman of a Christian rock band. Meanwhile, some deranged American special agents in fur coats are out to capture him.

Judging from its unmistakably Canadian setup, the film likely won’t abduct audiences outside our home and native land. Like the execrable Intern Academy, this shoddy production mystifyingly body-snatches some of the country’s iconic talents. The fact that Joe Flaherty lends his voice as the talking beaver will probably pique some interest. Graham Green here assumes the thankless role of a barkeep, while Se├ín Cullen briefly steals the show as another alien species. Even Ryan Malcolm makes a self-deprecating cameo. Sadly, these one-note gags quickly go sour.

Low-tech sci-fi B-movies aren’t all bad, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 has helped spawn some new geeky appreciation. Last year’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra smartly paid homage to the outdated subgenre and affectionately lampooned it. But it’s unclear what writer/director/star Stefaniuk tries to accomplish with Phil the Alien, which is even more misguided than Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! Geared in Red Green/McKenzie brothers-style flannel shirt and quilted vest, his Phil whines and shrieks throughout as if he were Ray Romano/Zach Braff on helium. He embellishes the film’s Canadian quotient, only to have Phil’s mutation into a “rock-‘n’-roll evangelist” stick out like a sore thumb.

Stefaniuk fills the film’s vacuous sphere with irrelevant subplots. There’s a redneck (Boyd Banks) who treats his hard-drinking, shotgun-toting teenage son (Brad McGinnis) to a whore to prevent any homosexual leanings. Then there’s the intense Agent Jones (Bruce Hunter) who is traumatized by the memory of murdering two puppies with a cheese grater. This nonsense provides some much needed digression, as does the film’s ultraviolent finale. Still, there are too few moments like these to actually morph this poorly conceived, written and executed film into something watchable. Just please beam up Stefaniuk already, along with whatever he’s been smoking.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.