The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Alien Autopsy

Apparently, Alien Autopsy was never released in the United States, which is a shame. Oh, not that "Alien Autopsy." I know the one you're thinking of - the infamous 1995 TV special that purported to have actual top secret film footage of, well, you know. No, Alien Autopsy is based on that TV special and the two men behind its central ruse. I'd have thought there would be a solid American audience for this tale, especially considering that the movie is so thoroughly entertaining. Better late than never, the 2006 British feature hits DVD from Warner Home Video on Sept. 21 with a DVD cover not-so-subtly designed to resemble the District 9 poster.

The picture opens with filmmaker Morgan Banner (Bill Pullman) meeting two young men: the grounded Gary Shoefield (Ant McPartlin) and his more egregious buddy Ray Santilli (Declan Donnelly). They want him to tell their story, which we then see in flashback. Ray meets a former military cameraman (Harry Dean Stanton) who shows him grainy black-and-white footage of a 1947 autopsy carried out at Roswell. Desperate for cash, he becomes the middleman in a deal to sell the print to a crop circle-obsessed mobster, only to later discover that the film has been ruined. Since he can't afford to repay the mobster his cash, Ray convinces Gary to help him reshoot what was on the reel.

Together with some friends, they build a set and a phony alien, then shoot their little movie, which Ray delivers to the mobster. He gets the bright idea to also sell copies to the media, which buys it hook, line, and sinker. Suddenly, their production is being broadcast on TV channels around the world. This brings them a lot of cash but also a ton of trouble, considering that it's been sold under false pretenses.

I still remember the night "Alien Autopsy" was first broadcast. Like millions of others, I huddled in front of my TV, totally absorbed by what I was seeing. I didn't believe it was real, but it was still hypnotic. There was a fun, What If? quality that quickly turned the special into water cooler talk around the country. Our society is far more cynical today. Would something like that still have as much impact now as it did in 1995? Hard to say. My suspicion is that more people would immediately dismiss it as a hoax than believe it could be authentic.

The story behind the hoax practically begs to be told, and the movie, as directed by Jonny Campbell, smartly doesn't oversell the comedy. That Santilli and Shoefield pulled the stunt off is humorous enough; the film can therefore play a lot of things straight and still be funny. In fact, there's a wry, distinctly British sense of comedy at work here. For example, while everyone is nervously filming the fake autopsy (with an alien dummy that can't be replaced), one character's grandma keeps walking onto the set to offer tea and crumpets. I also love how the film tracks the "snowball effect," as a tiny lie gradually leads to global manipulation - one that eventually involves Gary and Ray hiring a homeless man to pretend to be the cameraman. Donnelly and McPartlin are very good in their roles, with the former effectively playing a blatant opportunist and the other radiating reason as his saner partner.

Alien Autopsy is breezy and funny, with an energy that really keeps you involved. I wish it had given us a bit more introduction to the two main characters, so that their motivations for trying this stunt in the first place were clearer. Then again, who knows why people do stupid stuff? The fact is that Santilli and Shoefield did, and this movie is a highly enjoyable ode to their bad (but profitable) decision-making.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

Alien Autopsy arrives on DVD on Sept. 21 in widescreen format. The bonus features include additional scenes and outtakes, an alternate opening, commentary from director Jonny Campbell, and "The Making of Ant and Dec's Alien Autopsy."

Alien Autopsy - Own it on DVD Sept. 21

Alien Autopsy is rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity, language, and some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.