“The Alternate” shows us how “special” a special effects movie’s effects can be, even on the cheap, and how that’s still no substitute for a sharp, tight and original script or good acting.
A frustrated corporate video director and editor finds a glitch on his monitor, copies and expands it and realizes it’s a portal to another reality. Damned if the Jake in this other reality hasn’t gotten his first script, “Space Drive,” on the screen. He’s a workaholic success and he and his wife got around to finally having that child they’ve long wanted.
Seeing as how the “real” Jake (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is stymied, not-quite-broke but stuck in a dead end job with his marriage to Kris (Natalia Dominguez) showing the strain, he’s got some thinking to do, once he figures how what this “portal” is. Life’s a struggle, but everything he wants is just on the other side of that swirling vortex screen saver. There might be a short cut. If only he could switch places with clean-shaven Jake over there.
“It this what you dreamed about in film school?” is a question this portal might answer.
There’s promise in this set-up, and the effect — a character stepping through a “Poltergeist” black hole into another dimension — is convincing enough.
But the screenplay doesn’t see anything comic in Jake trying to have it both ways, “cheating” with his happier (Future?) wife, scheming to replace “himself” on the other side. The scheming itself is lame. We’re forced to sit through script-dictated delays in Jake showing Kris this “great discovery” he’s stumbled into.
And the leads are seriously bland and somewhat less subtle at showing us confusion, anger, pain and resentment than we’d like.
“Primer” is the benchmark I’ve long used when considering how good a sci-fi film with almost no budget can be. Time travel or alternate universes can be faked with similar cheap effects. What matters is the sharp focus of the screenplay, witty dialogue, cleverly-set-up moments of suspense, and execution.
“The Alternate” has the effects and a plot that could work, but falls short in pretty much every other regard.
Rating: unrated, violence, nudity, some profanity
Cast: Ed Gonzalez Moreno, Natalia Dominguez
Credits: Scripted and directed by Alrik Bursell. An Uncork’d release.
Running time: 1:28