'Extraterrestrial' Is a Refreshing Alternative to Summer Sci-Fi

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You can tell a lot about a culture by how they react to an alien invasion. Recent examples abound.

In New York, you can run around screaming, but never stop vlogging ("Cloverfield"). In Los Angeles you can puff out your chest for the cameras and say, "I need you to be my little Marine" ("Battle: Los Angeles") or maybe just act so obnoxious you deserve to get scooped up and de-brained ("Skyline"). In South Africa you'll quarantine the aliens then have an existential dilemma about it ("District 9").

In Europe, however, a hovering spacecraft that would appear to be a living paradox of all we understand about general relativity and propulsion would actually NOT interfere that much with important things like love trysts and cooking dinner.

Such is the world of "Extraterrestrial," a highly entertaining alternative to the deafening bombast of standard summer sci-fi fare. In an unnamed mid-sized Spanish city, Julio and Julia wake up after a one night stand. He is an industrial designer (this comes in handy!) she is ... cheating on her out of town boyfriend.

She is quickly able to assuage her guilt, albeit retroactively, when the pair recognize the city is empty, the TV is dead and there's a humongous Taito/Midway coin-op-shaped flying saucer hovering in the sky. At first it seems like the two libidinal J's are the only ones left in town, until they realize the dopey neighbor Angel is still there.

Angel, who suffers from a debilitating crush on Julia, is comic relief first and foremost. However, when Julia's boyfriend Carlos indeed turns up, his knowledge of the affair suddenly becomes dangerous. More dangerous than an invading armada from outer space? Well, no, but more ... present.

That's what's best about "Extraterrestrial." The ship is there, hovering, changing the world, but not really doing anything.

As the film progresses, Carlos is often out of the picture foraging for food, leaving J and J to come up with ridiculous ways in which to dispatch Angel. The two new lovers stay bunkered in the apartment, wondering whether or not the situation gives them a new moral lease on life. Just as things start to look emotionally promising, Angel is back in the apartment across the street with a tennis ball launcher in tow. That's around when they discover the clueless "resistance" group broadcasting on pirate TV.

One can look for deeper meaning in "Extraterrestrial," though I'm not 100 percent sure that's the intent. The film comes to us from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, the madman behind "Timecrimes" (also known as "Los Cronocrimenes.") While that film contorted itself into a perfect Gordian knot of internal (ill)logic, "Extraterrestrial" seems to relish in the exact opposite.

The film, like the gorgeous Iberian apartment, and like the relationships of young adults, is quick to become realistically messy. It follows its own flow whether you want it to or not. This can lead to frustration (in the case of the movie, you may be tempted to shout "get out of the apartment!") but, well, it's a lot easier to tell people what to do from the outside.

"Extraterrestrial" is a character-driven comedy, but despite this description, its science fiction is not just plopped there to get the story going. I think that some of the reactions in the film are far more realistic than the ones seen in many Hollywood movies. We, the Leaders of the Elders of Planet Fanboy strongly endorse you taking