Is it an intergalactic rom-com or a strangely lighthearted story of mental illness? Alan Brennan's Earthbound may stretch the ambiguity of its premise too far for its own good, but few in its happy-nerd demographic will mind. Though too humble in production values for mainstream consumption, it could find a receptive audience via niche theatrical bookings and VOD.
Orphaned at 11 by a father who told him they were refugees from a faraway, endangered planet, wide-eyed Joe (Rafe Spall) has made it to his mid-twenties believing this Superman-like tale and waiting for the opportunity to return to Zalaxon as a rebel leader. When adorable geekette Maria (Jenn Murray) walks into his comic-book shop needing to sell her collection of vintage action figures, the virginal Joe decides he has finally met an Earthling who's genetically suitable for courtship.
Their quick-moving romance is more sweet than plausible, but Murray projects just enough Carol Kane not-of-this-worldishness to seem game for love with Spall's quixotic Clark Kent -- at least so long as he keeps his alien origins a secret from her.
Problems arise when Joe begins to suspect extraterrestrial bounty hunters are on his trail: In a sequence playfully alluding to The Matrix, he becomes convinced he must share his story with Maria and go on the lam; she, in turn, hands him over to her old psych professor. All signs indicate the shrink's right when he argues that Joe is living a fantasy, which makes it hard for Brennan to gin up suspense in the final act, which has Joe trying to rescue Maria with plastic ray guns and advanced technology that looks suspiciously like old camera equipment.
Whether it's all in Joe's head or not, the action has a C-grade sci-fi feel as endearingly hokey as the Flash Gordon-type serials alluded to throughout the film. It's a far cry from Spall's other recent gig, playing a crew member aboard Ridley Scott's anything-but-modest Prometheus.Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, Sci-fi and Beyond
Production Companies: Ripple World Pictures Limited / Paper Dreams Limited
Cast: Rafe Spall, Jenn Murray, David Morrissey, Rory Keenan, Stephen Hogan, Carrie Crowley
Director-Screenwriter: Alan Brennan
Producer: Heidi Karin Madsen
Executive producers: Dominic Wright, Jacqueline Kerrin
Director of photography: PJ Dillon
Production designer: David Wilson
Music: Liam Bates
Costume designer: Louise Stanton
Editor: Barry Moen
No rating, 93 minutes