All movies pass through the editing room on their way to being a finished product but some of them really get edited. They get chopped up and reassembled while trying to satisfy the arbitrary needs of demographics or to address plot points that were previously salient. I'll Believe You is definitely one of those productions. Although the finished film is still an upbeat mélange of science fiction and comedy, its first act went through major edits which led to some definite pacing issues later on.
Dale Sweeney (David Alan Basche) has, in his own words, the 'best job in the world with the worst time slot'. He is the DJ for a radio show in Melbourne, Florida dedicated to uncovering the truth behind aliens, UFOs and other assorted unexplained phenomena. Unfortunately his show is on during the graveyard shift which means that he only has a few loyal listeners. Due to the underwhelming support for his show, the radio station director, Mr. Fratus (Fred Willard) threatens to cancel it. Just when things look the bleakest, Dale gets a call on his show from a stranger babbling in a seemingly alien language. Armed only with his curiosity and the support of his friends Paige (Cece Pleasants) and Senna (Patrick Gallo), Dale sets out to solve the mystery of the alien caller.
I'll Believe You tries very hard to merge science fiction elements with a sweet natured family comedy and just barely succeeds. Despite getting many elements right, its biggest strength also proves to be its biggest liability. I'm speaking of course about the impressive supporting cast consisting of Patrick Warburton, Ed Helms, Chris Elliott, Thomas Gibson and Fred Willard. Just looking at that list of names you can see a range of experience and talent that should elevate this little movie quite a bit. Unfortunately not all the guest stars truly pull their weight. Fred Willard, who I normally find hilarious in Christopher Guest's comedies, manages to suck the joy right out of his scenes with a performance that is awkwardly boring and boringly awkward. Chris Elliott fares a little better, playing a gator loving shirtless pseudo-philosopher who Dale turns to in times of doubt. Ed Helms gets a meaty scene to chew on as a cook in a restaurant with some unorthodox ideas on how to trap the Loch Ness Monster. Surprising me completely was Thomas Gibson, playing Dale's older brother Kyle who happens to sell hose for a living and is damn proud of it. There's an amped up intensity in his passion for hoses that is slightly terrifying and seriously funny.
I seem to have fallen into the trap laid by the film's marketing team. I've focused on the fleeting guest stars and completely ignored the central crew of Dale, Paige and Senna. As Dale, David Alan Basche has the thankless job of playing straight man to a parade of comedic scene-stealers. He holds his own well enough but mostly has to rely on a range of reaction shots to convey his true feelings. Playing Scully to Dale's Mulder, Cece Pleasants has the tough task of playing Paige as a skeptic who isn't out to crush Dale's hopes and dreams. That she manages to do so while bringing an unassuming sweetness to her first feature length film role is a credit to her. Compared to Dale and Paige, I had more of a love-hate relationship with Patrick Gallo's portrayal of Senna. Senna is supposed to be a bumbling police officer who exhibits flashes of keen insight when you least expect it. Unfortunately Gallo chose to play the character so broadly that I soured on his character early and had a hard time admitting that he was in fact quite good later in the film, especially during the chase for the alien. You may notice that I haven't said a word yet about Patrick Warburton and that's because I've saved the best for last. I can't say too much about his character lest I risk ruining the movie for you but suffice it to say he brings a commanding presence to the film. This is especially impressive considering he doesn't even show up until nearly an hour into the tale. However, from the point of his first appearance on screen, he steals every scene he is in with a portrayal that gave me glimpses of dramatic chops I never knew he had.
When I started this review, I mentioned the pacing issues plaguing the film and as far as I'm concerned they are the single biggest black mark against it. As I was watching the film, I found it odd that during a few scenes character's voices weren't matching their lips. I assumed it was a sub-par dubbing job but after listening to the audio commentaries, I discovered that the truth was far more interesting. After shooting the film (including reshoots with the principal cast), it was discovered during the editing stage that the first act of the film, revolving around a competition to save the radio station just wasn't working. Due to a lack of funds, this portion of the film couldn't really be reshot. Also, since many of the guest stars appeared during this segment, to lose the scenes would really hurt its drawing power at the box office. The solution turned out to be dubbing over the existing scenes MST3K style with new dialogue that was relevant to the mystery of the alien caller. There was no reason why this should have worked and my hat goes off to the editing team for not making it more obvious than it eventually turned out to be. The truly damaging side effect of this bait and switch was that the pacing of the first third of the film was completely off. Characters would appear without any context and would then disappear never to be seen again. Dale seemed to keep going in circles which made his search for the caller drag on. Added to all this was the slavish determination to keep all the scenes featuring the guest stars regardless of whether they advanced the central mystery or not. Fortunately the pacing evened out during the second half and with Warburton's arrival on the scene the film managed to deliver a satisfying finale that was both touching and sweetly optimistic.