Released in England in 2006, but shelved by Warner for US release until now, "Alien Autopsy" is a comedy that most audiences would find very similar to "The Men Who Stare at Goats." Beginning with a pseudo-documentary approach, a filmmaker played by Bill Pullman is asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before hearing what promises to be a fantastic tale. Begrudgingly accepting the terms, two men, Ray Santili (Declan Donnelly) and Gary Shoefield (Ant McPartlin) amble in. Pullman's character is skeptical of what he's about to hear until Santili has him do a Google search on his name, the resulting three million plus hits suggests there's something more to this odd duo and we're off and running.
I draw the comparison to "The Men Who Stare at Goats," fully realizing that film came well after this one, only because both share similar conventions. We have a character investigating a fantastic claim, we have some shady government dealings, albeit comically timed, a really great soundtrack (strangely both utilize the same opening titles song, Supergrass' "Alright"), and main characters that have connections to some out of this world events. Based on the (depending on how much you but into it) true story of the infamous "alien autopsy" video broadcast around the world in the mid-90s, "Alien Autopsy" but with a much more humorous spin.
I won't spend time pointing out places where the story differs, I'll leave that to you should you be so inclined, just know, that the real story is a little more mundane in key places. Director Jonny Campbell is faced with a monumental task and in the end delivers a reasonably entertaining film, but despite this being a comedy, there are very few laugh inducing moments. I for the most part found myself pleasantly amused at the antics of Ray and Gary, the pair pulling off a classic comedy duo of absurdist and straight man, with the latter filling the more mundane role. I was quite impressed with Donnelly and McPartlin's natural on-screen chemistry. When I found out doing a bit of research for this review the two are well known in England as the comedy duo "Ant and Dec," I wasn't shocked one bit.
The remainder of the cast merely shows up and does an adequate days work, with the only chance for them to really shine being the filming of the titular autopsy scene, which manages to mix broad and subtle humor quite nicely. Unfortunately, a subplot involving a financial backer with shady origins is far too over-the-top and highlights the extremes that the movie goes to for laughs but rarely delivers on a consistent basis. A lot of it could be chalked up to the sheer fact Ray and Gary passed off a fake video as genuine, even though Ray's intentions were honest and a bit justified. However, when the film tries to delve into territory regarding any dramatic implications of the dealings, it's merely discarded for a zinger.
On the plus side, the story does manage to remain captivating, aside from the previously mentioned moneyman plot. A very small supporting performance from Harry Dean Stanton, as the man who gets Ray and ultimately Gary involved in the out-of-this world nonsense is indeed comedy gold. Essentially playing Harry Dean Stanton, he gets two great profane one-liners later in the film and practically serves as the vocal mind of the audience, in utter disbelief of the shenanigans the duo finds their way into. Additionally, a brief, twice repeated gag from an American TV boss perfectly captures how bought into the hype people were when the actual network special regarding the footage aired in the mid-90s.
"Alien Autopsy" is a perfectly well made film on a technical level. It's sharply produced and captures the look of the mid-90s quite competently, a fact many viewers are likely to take for granted. Despite the uneven script, it's sharply edited and never overstays it's welcome. The titular autopsy, while played for laughs really looks like the one on the "real video" and the effects department hits a home run in replicating this key scene. I can understand why Warner sat on the movie in the US for four years, it just isn't a great comedy relying on subject matter to odd to be believable, when believing in it is a key factor to the film working in the first place.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is consistent given the particular style of cinematography employed. The modern day bridging sequences appear to be filmed using consumer grade cameras and feature a heavy deal of digital noise and natural lighting resulting in some iffy color levels, but generally strong detail. The majority of the film is sharp looking with well-balanced natural colors and above average contrast levels. Sporadically throughout the film, some footage is made to look like standard definition television broadcasts and is appropriately tweaked as a result.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio is a well-balanced lively affair with the fun soundtrack taking over the show when appropriate, while dialogue is front heavy and perfectly balanced. Surrounds are used appropriately, but sparingly,. English and French subtitles are included.
Despite Warner tossing this movie straight-to-DVD, the bonus features department is surprisingly stocked for such a small film. A feature length commentary from director Jonny Campbell starts things out. A thirty-minute featurette titled "The Making of Ant and Dec's Alien Autopsy" is obviously from British TV as it isn't as heavy on the self-congratulatory praises as a US promotional piece. It covers the background of the real story and production of the film, although two scenes from the actual autopsy video have been removed with a disclaimer from Warner.
Rounding out things are a large collection of deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Campbell, a brief outtakes reel, an alternate opening that should have been in the deleted scenes section, and last but not least, a sheet of stickers inside the front case.
"Alien Autopsy" is a fun but flawed film. Relying on the comedic skills of "Ant and Dec," it has trouble finding and keeping a consistent tone. If you found yourself amused by the original video from the mid-90s or got some chuckles from "The Men Who Stare at Goats," give this one a rent. It does entertain but the laughs just aren't as fantastic as the subject matter they're based on. Rent It.