I once had a film professor who argued – almost convincingly – that there is no such thing as a truly bad film. The key to grasping this notion, he argued, was perspective. Maintaining that bad films can often help one in appreciating good films sounded reasonable enough at the time, but this was long before the digital revolution. The digital video camera has ushered in the brave new world of democratically just – and, unavoidably, often nightmarishly amateurish – forays into the medium. It is useful to acknowledge that for every Blair Witch Project there are countless other failed attempts at coherent filmmaking at the micro-budget level. I can only wonder what my past instructor would think of UFO Fever, which is situated so firmly at the bottom of the barrel (somewhat by choice, but mostly by sheer ineptitude) that viewing it becomes nothing less than an exercise in abject masochism. Its lack of budget is commensurate to its lack of anything resembling a redeemable quality. UFO Fever also holds a newly-found, dubious distinction in all my decades of movie viewing – I cannot recall the last time I actually sneered at a film.
UFO Fever revels in vulgarity, scatological humor, and crass stereotyping (including white "homies," stutterers, the retarded, etc.) This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Farrelly brothers, for example, have mined similar territory with their black flag approach to offending sensitive sensibilities and have taken it to some extremely funny, sacred-cow smashing heights (or depths, depending upon your vantage point). No such luck here. As viewers, we are subjected to what can only be described as an alarmingly cheap contest of insipid one-upmanship and towering bad taste. And I don't mean funny, laugh-in-spite-of-yourself bad taste, a la Kevin Smith or almost all of John Waters.
Directed by Lee Bennet Sobel and "written" (their quotation marks, not mine, but entirely appropriate, as they were only responsible for the alleged "outline") by Sobel and Geraldine Winters, UFO Fever purports to tell the story of the trailer park Ganes family who reside in Bayonne, New Jersey. (Think John Waters minus all the wit, affection for characters, and occasional lowbrow charm). Vying for a million-dollar reward promised by a television program for the successful filming of a UFO, this dysfunctional crew sets about its mission while negotiating an angry landlady, odd store clerks, loudmouth townies, and nosy neighbors. Although it seems to fancy itself a satire, its obviousness and utter, contemptuous disregard for insight renders it something well beyond lame. What follows the remarkably horrid introduction is largely incoherent screaming, painfully unfunny characterizations, and an endless array of colorful speech devoid of even a modicum of inspiration or wit. UFO Fever's seemingly brief running time of just under seventy minutes turns out to be fools' gold.
A brief summation of the main characters:
Martha (Marian Rosin), the mother, is an alcoholic vulgarian of epic proportions who drools while passed out and desires to drink "Russian" vodka with the proceeds; there is also Glenn (Michael Malfitano), the hypochondriac father prone to saying things like "that squirrel looks like it has rabbis" (get it? He meant to say "rabies," but, you know, he's really, really stupid); Honey (Karen Stanion, the one actor who actually appears to have some potential), their hip-hop wannabe daughter who wants implants because all "video bitches" have them, and the attendant "man-bitches" to boot; and, finally, Jimmy (Kelly Heresy), a stoner who acts as the narrator of sorts and wielder of the camera.
If any of the above sounds even remotely amusing, my apologies in advance.
The largely ad-libbed "humor" in UFO Fever is so lacking, so mind-numbingly inept, so soul-crushingly awful that it simply boggles the mind. To wit: imagine a joke concerning the capture of an "alien." A man is brought back to the trailer. He is from Houston and only speaks Spanish. See, he's an illegal alien. That's why it's funny. Now, imagine this joke playing itself out over the course of about three minutes. Now imagine spending over an hour of your valuable life with this sort of tedium.
To grasp the above is to understand all.
Video: Presented in full frame, UFO Fever looks about as good as a consciously artless film shot on mini-DV can – which, needless to say, is not very. Sobel notes that he wanted the film to appear as actual home movies taken by the Ganes, and to that end, he succeeds. The camera darts, follows, shakes, etc. If this sort of visual whiplash normally renders you queasy, just wait until you hear the "dialogue."
Audio: UFO Fever includes a DD 2.0 mix which is adequate. Dialogue is generally easy to hear (which, in this instance, is regrettable), although there are occasionally welcome instances in which the actors stray a bit too far from the microphone attached to the camera that renders their rambling tough to hear. The music used in the background is mostly impossible to discern throughout.
Extras: Included in this release is the film's original trailer; the truly horrifying Audition footage (13.22), which I unwisely thought impossible to surpass the wretchedness of the film itself; and a short film Rick Blazen is in Trouble (13:32), also directed by Sobel.
Final Thoughts: UFO Fever attempts to wear its lowbrow credentials proudly on its sleeve, but its defiant, allegedly satirical, and gritty posturing is belied by its cringe-inducing ad-libbing and embarrassingly stilted and forced performances. Moreover, its conceptual crudity (the use of "found footage," etc., only hints at the levels of ineptitude to be found within) is more than matched by its woeful, excrutiating execution. Although Sobel desires to invoke the models of Blair Witch and Clerks, UFO Fever fails even to register as a misfire – it is singularly ghastly, and this is coming from someone who enjoys the occasional swim in the shallow end. Simply put, it is an affront on multiple levels, a film whose heart and mind are nowhere to be found.
The tagline for UFO Fever is "In Jersey no one can hear you scream." Ten bucks says that they heard me screaming in Jersey, and I live in New York.
UFO Fever can be purchased through www.lofientertainment.com for $12.00 as of September 1, 2003. This is not a bargain.