Phil the Alien

written and directed by Rob Stefaniuk

starring Rob Stefaniuk, Nicole deBoer and Graham Greene


review by Stephen Notley

You can tell Phil the Alien is a Canadian movie from the first few minutes. The film is underexposed, the cast is made up of virtual unknowns, the story isn't so much a plot as an assemblage of beery bits and oddball characers, and there's a talking beaver voiced by SCTV's Joe Flaherty. It couldn't really get more Canadian if it tried.

As a Canadian, Phil the Alien (movie and character) isn't so much eager to please as desperate to be liked. Phil (the character) crash-arrives in northern Ontario one night and transforms from gangly thingoid into a slightly goofy-looking hoser played by writer-director-actor Rob Stefaniuk. Stefaniuk's Phil feels like a fusion of SCTV-style Rick Moranis and Kids In the Hall-esque Kevin McDonald, given to wide-eyed demi-comprehension and the occasional alien hooting noise, and he swiftly (or not so swiftly) starts running into the gallery of weirdoes that make up the rest of the cast. There's the father-son team of bumpkins who live out in the woods, and the three members of a bar band who hang around the bar, and Graham Greene as the bartender of the same bar, called "Canadian Bar" in case you forgot what country you were in, and there's a mean drunk ex-CIA guy named Jones and a couple of fur-suit-wearing CIA guys who answer to a CIA guy who works in an office buried under Niagara Falls, with whales swimming around in tanks behind him, and eventually Nicole de Boer, Ezri Dax from Deep Space Nine, shows up as a Quebecois assassin, plus the beaver, Joe Flaherty. Crazy, huh?

Phil the Alien (the movie) hopes that all this will be enough to hold your attention given the overall lack of, well, urgency. If you like the Trailer Park Boys there's a fair bit of intersection of concept here, the idea of Canadians as drunken dopes, with Phil quickly developing a taste for the demon drink. But mostly Phil the Alien is about tossing stuff out to see what sticks. Phil has telekinetic powers. He levitates bowls of nuts while guitar chords crash. Funny? Maybe. There's at least one unquestionably good scene, Nicole de Boer dining with a guy with a greatly alien order, but beyond that it's anybody's guess. How about Phil getting thrown in jail and coming out believing in Lord? Does that sound good? Or an abbreviated road trip to Niagara Falls?

One of the things that doesn't really stick is the music, which ranges from entirely appropriate Rush songs to annoying beep-boop-blip ditties and has the peculiar habit of gearing up for a scene and then abruptly cutting out. Doing this once is a joke, but doing it again and again is an ironic choice to undercut emotional attachment, strange considering how much this movie wants you to like it. As a result, while Phil the Alien is cheerful and good-natured, there's never a moment where it believes in itself as much as even the crassest episode of Smallville.