Extraterrestrial life forms have been the subject of many films since the silent era. Goofy men in suits, tear jerking puppets, acid bleeding face rapists, and occasional appearances from the “Fresh Prince” just keep us lining up to indulge our fantasies. What is this fascination we have with the thought of intelligent life living somewhere off in a galaxy far far away? More importantly, can an independent film spin this science fiction phenomenon into a light-hearted farce that is worth watching? Damn right it can! From some of the creative minds behind Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” comes First Time Caller, a hilarious and thought provoking romp where just about anything is possible.
Disc jockey Dale Sweeney (David Alan Basche) is the host of the late night radio program “Hey, I’ll believe you”, a show where callers contribute their vast conspiracy theories, crazy notions, and apparent U.F.O. sightings in a public forum. When dwindling ratings cause his boss Mr. Fratus (Fred Willard) to threaten cancellation and the frightening thought of working with his brother Kyle (Thomas Gibson) at Hose World draws closer, Dale and his friends Paige Zinke (CeCe Pleasants), a science teacher with her head screwed on, and Nick Senna (Patrick Gallo), a bumbling cop investigating a series of strange thefts and sightings in the area, cook up a contest for the most convincing caller. Low and behold, Dale’s show gets a mystery caller who babbles on and on for five minutes straight in an extremely odd language. With help from his band of eccentric listeners (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Chris Elliott, and Ed Helms), Dale and Officer Senna venture on a quest to unearth - what they believe is - an alien in the local area by any means necessary.
Rather than being just some shameless spoof of the whole science fiction genre with gross out gags, slapstick, and cheap puns, First Time Caller follows more along the lines of this year’s indie hit Shaun of the Dead. It makes fun of itself and the genre, while still having its own highly entertaining original story. But unlike Shaun of the Dead, it is limited to what the budget can allow. Don’t expect CG creatures or cute puppets a la Spielberg and Lucas, the movie’s driving force is the main characters simply talking about what’s what. Unlike Signs or Contact where expositional sci-fi can lull you to sleep, this film gets from point A to B courtesy of an ensemble of oddballs.
David Alan Basche fronts the - pseudo - all star cast, and he certainly takes the ball and runs with it. Look for Basche in summer 2005 going up against some more outer space creatures as “Tim” in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Basche’s charisma practically carries First Time Caller, if there was but one slip up in his work, then the rest of the movie would be hard to swallow. Plus it doesn’t hurt that he had great support. Patrick Gallo takes the overweight dumb guy buddy role and keeps it fresh. The real stand out though comes from the film’s vast array of cameos. As much as they are cameos, all the familiar faces that pop in fit into the movie’s universe. Patrick Warburton, (Men In Black II, “Seinfeld”) absolutely wowed me. Every scene he is in, you can’t take your eyes off him, and everything he says is so outrageous and at the same time feels true.
Director Paul Francis Sullivan, and fellow writers Ted Sullivan and Sean McPharlin, economically breathe life into this DV feature. Their wit and timing are sewn throughout this tale. The most astonishing part is actually how funny the film is without standard Hollywood comedy elements of “potty humor” and four letter words. The film is squeaky clean...and it’s still funny. How many movies in recent memory can you say that about?
As much as I’ve praised First Time Caller, I have to say there are some parts that I didn’t quite like. There were some jokes that fell flat and it did slightly drag at times, but the film’s high points well out number its lows. By no means is it the funniest movie ever made, and by no means is it the absolute best. It is what it is. It’s an independent film, and independent films have some draw backs. Still, I applaud the group behind the flick for at the very least having the balls to go out there and make this happen.
Like I said, this won’t be the best or funniest film you ever see, but for the duration of its running time it will entertain you...and that’s the important part. When it secures a release date, hunt it down and give it a shot...you’ll get your money’s worth. The release will most likely be limited, as the majority of indies are, but it is this critic’s opinion that you should reach out and touch First Time Caller.