Jules recalls nothing so much as the kind of bargain basement, straight-to-VHS movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Photo courtesy of Big Beach

Film Review: Jules

Film Reviews

Director: Marc Turtletaub

Big Beach
In Theaters: 08.11

During the 1983 Oscars, the pop culture zeitgeist of Steven Speilberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial couldn’t manage to stand up to Gandhi, which walked away with the most statuettes that evening, including Best Picture. 40 years later, the aliens seem to be getting their revenge on Gandhi lead actor Ben Kingsley by forcing him to star in Jules, the cut-of-cut-rate E.T. imitator that refuses to go away.

Milton (Kingsley) lives a quiet life of routine in a small, western Pennsylvania town. Milton shows up to every town meeting, cares for his azaleas, occasionally hears from his daughter Denise (Zoe Winters, Succession) and never hears from his estranged son. His mundane and depressing life is interrupted when a flying saucer crash lands in Milton’s backyard, revealing a short, white-skinned humanoid. Before long, two neighbors (Harriet Sansom Harris, Frasier) and (Jane Curtin, Third Rock from the Sun) discover that Milton is hiding an alien and insert themselves into the dynamic. The three seniors bond with the extraterrestrial, whom they name Jules, and with each other, as the government starts to close in on Jules’ location. It becomes increasingly clear that Jules can’t stay on Earth, and his new friends must help the alien find a way to get home.

Director Marc Turtletaub (Gods Behaving Badly) does a fair if unexceptional job with the smaller character scenes, though screenwriter Gavin Steckler’s dialogue is bland, stilted and forgettable. Still, the weakest of these scenes is better than when Jules tries to make any attempts at being a science-fiction movie, as shoddy visual effects and an obviously low budget bring Jules close to Mystery Science Theater 3000 territory. In a bafflingly stupid plot thread, Milton and company discover that Jules needs as many dead cats as he can get his hands on in order to rebuild his spaceship. This suggests that Steckler and Turtletaub were worried that their paling-in-comparison-to-E.T. schtick was becoming old, and they wanted to give the audience a chance to say, “This isn’t even as good as Alf.” As a comedy, Jules is an abject failure, and it only comes close to working when it’s trying to be a melancholy drama about the loneliness of aging.

Kingsley is a great actor, and he’s certainly committed to the performance, though I never fully bought him in the role. While much of it can be blamed on a truly atrocious and distracting wig, the powerhouse British star simply feels miscast as an American nebbish, and the commitment to making Milton such an ordinary, soft-spoken guy results in a lead character who never really feels like a protagonist. Curtin has one good scene and is given little to do the rest of the time. Harris is given the best character and comes through the other side most successfully, though the lightly comedic/heartwarming moment where Jules protects her by using telekinetic powers to make a burglar’s head explode is another of the film’s biggest misfires.

The best that can be said about Jules is that it has just enough moments that teeter on the edge of not being utter crap that I made it all the way to the end. It recalls nothing so much as the kind of bargain basement, straight-to-VHS movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it may be worth taking the time to go to a movie theater this weekend just to make a point of buying a ticket to see something else. –Patrick Gibbs 

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