FROM OTHER WORLDS

NR
Reviews

In From Other Worlds, writer-director Barry Strugatz displays a talent for gently mocking pop culture while telling a semi-serious story about a woman's search for greater meaning. But in typical feature directorial debut fashion, Strugatz overstuffs his fragile creation. Less would have meant so much more.

In Strugatz's story, Cara Buono plays Joanne Schwartzbaum, a Brooklyn housewife who is bored with life until an alien force visits her in her backyard. Meanwhile, Abraham Kanga (Isaach De Bankole), an émigré from the Ivory Coast, also experiences the UFO contact. The two humans join forces and try to understand the reason for their "close encounter."

As Joanne and Abraham research clues in the library, a thief posing as a government agent starts trailing after them, and Joanne's husband, Brian (David Lansbury), begins to believe Joanne is having an affair. Indeed, Joanne and Abraham become closer after they finally see an alien in human form who gives them instructions to save the planet. The pair enlist the aid of their neighbors to help track down an ancient scroll they need to give to the alien. Once she helps accomplish the mission, Joanne must decide whether to join Abraham and the alien on a trip to another galaxy or stay on Earth with her family.

From Other Worlds contains several likeable things--the affecting lead performances by Buono and De Bankole, a not-uninteresting storyline, and a few charming artistic touches (the best of which is the 360-degree pan and celestial backdrop used during Joanne and Abraham's first kiss).

But the film also includes unfortunate distractions. There are just too many characters, including Joanne's wacky neighbors and parents. The subplot involving the thief adds cartoonish melodrama (in the Indiana Jones tradition) when none is really needed. The other riffs and references (to such sci-fi and UFO movies as Close Encounters of the Third Kind) are more successful, but also overdone at times. (Pierre Foldes' incessant musical score cues every clever moment.)

From Other Worlds is at its best when focusing on Joanne's story of self-discovery. In key scenes, writer-director Strugatz channels such films as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Far From Heaven, Juliet of the Spirits, and Strugatz's own co-authored screenplay for Married to the Mob. In fact, one wishes there were more of Joanne's "trajectory" and less of the alien and zany human character intrusions.

In any case, From Other Worlds may not be out of this world. but it makes diverting earthly entertainment.