It's unlikely anyone ever claimed, or even thought, "Why can't there be a sci-fi romantic comedy with equal appeal to geeks and their mates?" I'm not sure anyone is panting for the unholy spawn of Nicholas Sparks and Ridley Scott.
But Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo decided to go for it anyway, creating a funny, good-natured sci-fi love story with a dark wit. It delivers something that big-budget "funny" UFO-driven films as "The Watch," "Paul" and "Men in Black III" could not – winning comedy, but not at the expense of story and character.
As "Extraterrestrial" begins, Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up in an enviable position: in bed, next to a gorgeous woman. The direction seems to be farce; Julio has no idea who she is, how he came to be there or what to do next.
The woman is Julia (Michelle Jenner), and she seems intent on ushering him out the door. But then … they notice something, outside. All is quiet. The streets are deserted. The television does not work. "Has something happened?" Julio asks.
Something has: An alien ship fills the sky. Odd, portly neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces) wanders in with the details. UFOs can be found around the globe.
Soon, Carlos (Raúl Cimas) – Julia's burly, initially friendly hubby – arrives and seems to buy Julio's cover story of merely seeking shelter. That seems relatively unimportant as the trio begins to doubt that Angel is who he says he is.
Amid the identity crises, Julio and Julia begin to fall in love, heightening the tension and the humor. (Angel's methods for telling Carlos what's going on between his wife and their houseguest are priceless.)
As the film hurtles toward its conclusion, suspicion passes from Angel to just about everyone else, and Vigalondo serves up an unexpectedly sweet, surprise twist.
It's a brilliant concept, this merging of bedroom hijinks with alien invasion. And the film's off-kilter trio is a key element to its success. Villagrán's slightly dopey Julio becomes quite complex, while Cimas is a surly treat.
But Michele Jenner is the film's real breakout star, a whip-smart, comically adept stunner whose character is lovably mysterious, and very funny. And Areces' Angel is an obnoxiously inspired creation.
Vigalondo's first film, "Timecrimes," was a convoluted time-travel thriller that mostly worked, and this, too, shows a playful ability to take and subvert the expectations of genre filmmaking. Oscar-nominated for a 2005 short film, the director again shows a Whedon-esque love of one-liners, sugary romance and unexpected turns wrapped in high drama.
It is not a great film; it meanders, and even at 102 minutes is overlong. But "Extraterrestrial" is pleasantly offbeat – funny, sexy and unique. It aims low, and is all the more effective for it.
"Extraterrestrial," which debuted to strong reviews at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and also screened at this year's Buffalo International Film Festival, is showing for two days only at the Screening Room on Sheridan Drive, at 9:15 p.m. today and Saturday.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Michelle Jenner, Carlos Areces, Raúl Cimas, Julián Villagrán.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Running time: 102 minutes
Rating: Not rated, but PG-13 equivalent for brief nudity, violence and profanity.The Lowdown: A man wakes up next to a beautiful woman he does not know and falls in love while alien spaceships hover overhead. Playing tonight and Saturday at the Screening Room, 3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.