When the aliens visit, they might give us the standard “Take to me your leader” shtick. But if they’re young enough, they might be more interested in comparing farts.
That’s the lesson of “Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy,” a laugh-out-loud kids’ fantasy from Vietnam, hands-down the best “E.T.” knockoff to come along in years.
A magically-empowered alien child (Chu Diep Anh) crash lands her jellyfish-shaped space shuttle and befriends a lonely little boy, Hung (Lai Truòng Phù) who finds her. But their friendship is threatened by greedy, power-mad adults and their hired thugs. Hung must team up with his wealthy, spoiled rival (Tin Tin) to foil the bad guys, save the girl and let go back where she came from.
But first she has to “phone home,” of course.
Whatever the plot and story beats of the Slovak TV series that this is inspired by (glimpsed in the movie), writer-director Ham Tram (“Bitcoin Heist”) knows that the gold here is in tried and true characters, alien fish-out-of-water jokes and grownups as “obstacles” who can only be overcome with kiddie hijinks.
We’re introduced to Hung and his still-grieving widowed dad (Ngòc Tuòng), a tinkerer who can’t make ends meet repairing people’s cell phones. Hung is an avid model airplane flyer who finds himself in battle with Beo (Tin Tin), the rich kid who lives in a nearby high-rise and likes nothing better than wrecking Hung’s “Comet” camera-plane with his fancy camera-drone.
Goons hired by a samurai-obsessed gangster are trying to evict everybody in Hung’s building.
“Hey, why are you picking on these people Black Pecker?” “I go by BULL, now.”
Yeah, that’s just as funny in subtitles as it is in Vietnamese.
And there’s a Vietnamese billionaire who plans to build a spaceport and enter Vietnam into the space race.
Everybody’s plans get upended by the girl who crashes into the harbor, takes purple-haired human form after sipping a human juice box (Hah!), and tells Hung she has no name, but that she’s from the planet Maika.
Well, that’ll do for a name, then.
Maika’s powers are borrowed from many another big or small screen alien — mind melds and the like. But her species has tentacles they can summon up to use as Wonder Woman whips, which is novel.
Tram finds the heart, humanity and humor in all this in the kids, their simpler understanding of the world and simple, goofy solutions to confrontations.
“Kimchi Bombs!” are a weapon of choice. “Mooning” the bad guys is a great distraction.
Hung must contend with the cute nurse who is sweet on his dad, his best friend moving away and a wrecked airplane long before Maika arrives. The alien is looking for “my comrade,” and has to learn Vietnamese. She figures the default language on Earth is Russian, for some reason.
Otherwise, the story arc is almost note-for-note “E.T.,” but the laughs come from the oddest places. Hung has to explain tears to Maika, noting that they taste “salty, like boogers.”
Beo’s ongoing prank war with his skateboarding older brother (Phu Truong) has him dressing in an elaborate jumpsuit disguise, painted to match the yellow, blue and red rust on a beached buoy where Bin and his “club” hang out.
The Japanese gangster’s phone ring-tone screeches “Konnichiwaaaaaaaaaaaa” every time it rings.
No, it’s not the most original kiddie fantasy to come along. The plot sets up situations it doesn’t follow through on and there are wildly inconsistent “rules” within that set-up.
But the kids are — to a one — adorable. The slice of Vietnamese working class life — outdoor brick oven cake-baking, a trek to a mountaintop amusement park, scenery that hasn’t been over-exposed in movies — is interesting and the villains are the same over there as anywhere else — gangsters who hire others to be their “muscle,” and spoiled billionaires used to getting their own way, no matter the cost.
They’ll get theirs. And before “Maika” is through, you’ll get yours, or at least be rooting for that “phone home” call to get through.
Rating: unrated, violence, fart jokes, mild profanity
Cast: Lai Truòng Phù, Chu Diep Anh, Tin Tin, Ngòc Tuòng, Diep Anh Tru, Phu Truong and Kim Nha
Credits: Scripted and directed by Ham Tram, inspired by the Slovak TV book and TV series “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.” A Well Go USA release.
Running time: 1:47