Jabbar Raisani’s ET-invading mediocrity is very of the moment, setting the action in Afghanistan and committing wholeheartedly to the kind of faux-documentary aesthetic that many fiction features co-opt to lend immediacy and provide instant significance. It’s easy to imagine the pitch meeting: “Restrepo… but with aliens!” That sounds, as so many things do on the level of 25-words-or-less ephemera, incredible. In execution, it’s a real slog.
Faced with conjuring up yet another otherworldly apocalypse on what is clearly a limited budget, Raisani and his collaborators mostly leave the alien-invading spectacle to some quick-cut news reports and a few audience-sating money shots. (Stay past the end credits if you want to see the grandest of these meager visions.) Beyond that, the movie sticks the audience with an unmemorable team of macho grunts—soldiers guarding one of the last working outposts built to counter the off-world insurgent forces—and the camera crew filming their every move.
These are men’s men through and through, led by the gruffly paternalistic Spears (Rick Ravanello). They’re always arguing, breaking each other’s balls, and unleashing torrents of racial and homophobic invective, though it’s all in good fun—a way of blowing off steam in-between gunning down extraterrestrials (nicknamed “Heavies”). Yet, for most of the film the soldiers aren’t taking out martians, but faceless, zombified Afghans who have been hypnotically conscripted to the invaders’ cause. It appears as if Raisani and his co-writer Blake Clifton fancy themselves political provocateurs, using a science fiction framework to not-so-subtly address the current state of affairs in the war-torn Middle East. The symbolism, however, is unapologetically shallow, and though there’s some fairly conspicuous ass-covering (the outpost squadron is multiracial and they have a just-one-of-the-guys Afghan translator on hand), rah-rah militarism of the “kill the ragheads!” sort tends to win out.
It’s often easy to forget this is a movie about lumbering, laser-shooting reptilians from beyond the Milky Way, which makes the few scenes in which man actually takes on interplanetary beast feel like breaths of fresh air. That’s despite the cheap look of the Heavies themselves (it’s as if some poor, underpaid special-effects grunt digitally composited the Mangalore heads from The Fifth Element on top of the RoboCop exoskeleton). Still, anyone who cheered when cigar-chomping Will Smith punched out a tentacled ET in Independence Day will surely thrill at the sight of an alien invader torn to shreds by a hail of modified bullets. Simple pleasures for a shamelessly simple film.