Written and directedby Rob Stefaniuk Starring Rob Stefaniuk,Nicole de Boer, Joe Flaherty,Graham Greene, John Kapelosand Sean Cullen Classification: 14A
In the best low-budget films, necessity breeds invention. Phil the Alien takes this theory to pathologically absurdist extremes
When Toronto-based writer/director Rob Stefaniuk received a mechanical beaver and a synthetic alien as hand-me-down props from his brother, a special-effects artist, he decided to come up with a movie idea that incorporated the two. The result is a delightfully freakish comedy about Phil, a neurotic extraterrestrial who falls to Earth in the fictional hick town of North Beaver Creek, Ont., and is (you guessed it) befriended by a talking beaver. And that's just the first act. From there, the movie starts getting really weird.
But weird can be good, especially when it's as bladder-squelchingly funny as this. In this dark Canadian comedy, Stefaniuk positions himself as a kind of indie Mike Myers -- a triple-threat auteur who directs, writes and stars in a film that screens like a trip around his own wickedly demented brain.
And not only is Phil the Alien funny, he's also lovely to look at. Or his movie is, at any rate. Shot cheaply and blown up to 35 mm, the picture manages to capture the austere beauty of northern Ontario landscape through a handful of thoughtfully composed visual sequences. The seedy, claustrophobic interiors of taverns and trailers contrast with the vast, magnificent landscape outside. Impressive stuff from a first-time feature-film director.
But back to the wackiness. After landing in the woods and shape-shifting from alien to human form, Phil encounters Joey (Brad McGinnis), a rifle-toting urchin with a drinking problem. Joey takes him back to the cabin and tells his cowering ward to stay put. "Sit down here," the kid instructs in a nasal hoser's honk. "We're gonna wait for my Dad to get back and then he's gonna kill you."
In order to pass the time, Phil amuses Joey by moving objects around the room with telekinetic powers. Joey, in turn, teaches Phil how to get right pissed. Before long the two are slugging back Canadian Club like a couple of old barflies. But their party is rudely interrupted when Dad, looking like a chorus-line member in the musical version of Deliverance, returns to the cabin from his recent trip to the local brothel and promptly kicks Phil out. "What did I tell you about inviting pedophiles in?" the hillbilly hollers at his son. "Every night can't be New Year's Eve, you know!"
And so begins Phil's bizarre visit to Earth -- one that will have him singing in an experimental rock band, finding Jesus and ducking the network of evil secret agents who are out murder him. "How come?" you might ask, or "What the heck is going on?" My best advice to you is: Don't bother. Phil the Alien can't be properly enjoyed with close consideration. Rather, it invites you to sit back, pour yourself an imaginary glass of cheap rye and laugh as the narrative inanities roll in, each one more ludicrous than the next. Pedantic plot sticklers be warned.
After being ousted from the cabin, Phil stumbles around drunkenly in the woods where he encounters a wisecracking beaver, voiced by SCTV icon Joe Flaherty, who offers him a place to stay. For the next few weeks he whiles away his time in the sticks, ordering loads of bottled beer (which he lovingly calls "medicine," like some kind of misguided temperance worker) from the brooding aboriginal bartender (Graham Greene) at the Canadian Tavern, and entertaining the regulars with his telekinetic party tricks. All in all, it's one big darkly comic party -- equal parts misery and revelry. In other words, the kind of bash that small-town Canadians throw best.
For international audiences, this movie will play as a wacky three-joint flick, full of the kind of bathroom jokes and clever political incorrectness that college kids get off on. But on domestic soil, Phil is sure to become a rural-alcoholic-hoser-cult-hit, one that will instantly take its place alongside such classics of the genre as Strange Brew and, uh, Strange Brew.
Finally, a movie that employs the kind of garrison-mentality humour that Canadians secretly thrive on. Now pour yourself a big glass of "medicine" and enjoy.