Published Mar 01, 2005It looks as if director Rob Stefaniuk called in a lot of favours while making his campy sci-fi comedy Phil the Alien. Even at the best of times neither the script nor the production values seem strong enough to explain the involvement of such mega-watt Canadian stars as Graham Greene, Joe Flaherty, Sean Cullen and, uh, Ryan Malcolm. But attracted to the project they were, and for better and for worse Stefaniuk's film is determined to milk these icons and idols for all they're worth.
Mostly it works well. This is, after all, a story about a drunken alien living with a beaver in Northern Ontario. Using the premise as a point of departure, Stefaniuk's script quickly moves from the unlikely to the ridiculous. Both Flaherty (as the voice of the beaver) and Cullen (as Sam the Alien) are skilled practitioners of this kind of oddball comedy, and their performances seem consistent with the campy nature of low budget comedy.
Elsewhere you get the feeling that the director doesn't quite know what to do with all this Canadiana. Graham Greene, in particular, gets hung out to dry with underdeveloped dialogue. As a small town barkeep, Greene has little to do except stand behind the bar polishing shot glasses. His best line, "I'll give you a fucking wallbanger," is an unsatisfying glimpse at how strong the character might have been. There's a Rush song too, "Tom Sawyer," which seems attached not because it suited a moment in the film but because Stefaniuk was able to secure the rights to use it.
Ultimately all this unrealised star power detracts from the film's many strengths, which lie in its kooky concept and charismatic cast of relative unknowns (including Stefaniuk in the film's title role). Both Boyd Banks and Brad McGinnis, who play a note-perfect hillbilly father/son duo, provide many of the film's real laughs and also serve as the story's emotional anchor. (Lions Gate)