The year was 1995, and, with the X-Files at the height of its popularity, the production of 'genuine' footage of alien bodies taken from the Roswell crash sparked enormous media interest. Enormous numbers of people around the world watched the grainy film and its authenticity has been debated ever since. That matter is now closed: Ant and Dec are here to tell us that the autopsy footage was fake, filmed in a London flat using a maternity mannequin with a haggis for a brain.
The two hoaxers are the wheeler-dealing Ray Santilli (played by Declan Donnelly) and the more straightlaced Gary Shoefield (Anthony McPartlin). In the US, Ray stumbles across a top secret military film which he buys using money borrowed from dangerous crop circle fanatic Voros (a maniacal Gotz Otto). But when the footage doesn't survive the trip, the pair find themselves in desperate need of a replacement. Soon they're making money, but with this much attention, can they avoid being found out?
The narrative is fun and unpredictable, and as the duo get richer so do the twists. Told as a flashback to a documentary-maker interested on the project (there's a poster for Being John Malkovich on the office wall although writer Will Davies isn't quite Kaufman enough to write himself directly) we're frequently reminded that this isn't a true story, so much as the one Santilli and Shoefield want us to believe. After one particularly preposterous escapade the listening writer remarks wryly, "So you guys are just lucky?" They shrug and agree.
It's good to see a UK film that doesn't rely on crude humour or violence for its appeal, even if does rely on Ant and Dec for its marketing. Fans may be disappointed, however - this isn't the zany comedy the posters suggest. The real stars here are Ray and Gary themselves, who've cooked up this scam of a plot. They're credited as Executive Producers: not a bad promotion after only one black-and-white short. They even contrive a suitable question mark over the 'original' autopsy footage, from which we are - perhaps - shown a fragment at the end.
The slapstick is mild and there are some funny lines, although there's a scene with Gary's boss (played by Jimmy Carr) could have come straight from Davies' previous script, the dire Johnny English. Occasional attempts at something more profound about our place in universe fall universally flat. The 'true story' nature leaves little room for character development, especially of the supporting cast, and the ending feels a little tacked-on. There is a Cigarette Smoking Man who is deeply unconvincing.
The film is predominantly London-based and the city looks bright, if not pretty. This is the debut feature of C4's Shameless helmer Jonny Campbell and he brings over the look and feel of the series, as well as (briefly) its star David Threfall. There's good use of music throughout to keep up pace. The autopsy footage is well-rendered, as is the alien dummy, though apparently the SFX department didn't trust themselves enough to use the authentic Mothercare and meat counter materials of the original.
In their desire to make a Full Monty style story of ordinary lads taking on the big time, some salient facts about the real Ray have been left out (he ran a video production company, not a market stall; he'd been in contact with UFO groups prior to visiting the US). But the story is more fun this way: the film is another hoax. At least it has the honesty not to say so.