For his first film since the break-out success of the low-fidelity musical Once, writer and director John Carney teams up with his brother Kieran for a crude and charmless one-note comedy about a small-time con-man who fools the people of a small Irish town into believing he is an alien from outer space.

Simon Delaney plays the title character Zonad, who has recently escaped from an alcohol rehabilitation centre and is looking for somewhere to lie low. He stumbles into the town of Ballymoran as the locals are out looking at a rare comet streak across the sky. When the Cassidy family return home to find a drunken man sprawled on their living room carpet, Liam (who has by now squeezed into a red spandex jumpsuit) invents the character Zonad and pretends to be E.T. arrived from a distant world to study humanity. Mum (Donna Dent) and Dad (Geoff Minogue) make their visitor feel at home, but Zonad is already making eyes for their nubile schoolgirl daughter Jenny (Janice Byrne), their whiskey and their DVD player.

Realising the extent of the native’s stupidity, and the fact that Ballymoran (Baile An Amadán, in case you don’t get it) seems to exist in a strange combination of 1950s Americana and a Britney Spears video, Zonad knows he is on to a good thing. He is the talk of the town. People gather in the pub to buy him pints, he is fed steak and chips and women throw themselves at his feet. The only one to see through Zonad’s story is American import Guy (Rory Keenan), a high-school jock with a varsity jacket, a duck’s arse haircut and a butler. The “gentleman’s gentleman” is agonizingly modelled after Wodehouse’s Jeeves (way after) and played by David Murray’s eyebrows.

A little background: Zonad was first attempted as a short film, starring a then unknown Cillian Murphy, that was shot in the late 1990s, edited over a couple of years but never finished and never publicly screened. Murphy has wisely avoided a reprise and the Carneys might have done the same. Short films that are essentially genre pastiches are short for a reason, typically comprising of one good idea, if you’re lucky, and two solid jokes. The riff does not extend over 80 minutes.

If there is a joke here, I didn’t get it, no matter how many times it was repeated. The story, presented as a series of skittish encounters, is bolstered by a series of running jokes that exhaust themselves in trying to be vulgar. Crudity aside, every scene is played with an air of compromise and panic in as broad a manner as possible. The few weak gags, up to and including an excruciating Raging Bull homage, are lost in the wildly uneven tone and clumsy, anxious direction. When everything is spontaneous, nothing is.

Much of Zonad plays on the same tired old notions about the Irish as gullible country yokels and unsophisticated stooges. Carney’s approach to character is to present these stereotypes and caricatures and then invert them – in the most obvious and puerile manner – by giving them racy sex lives or dirty mouths. There’s nothing wrong with poking fun at ourselves, if the jabs are accurate. Graham Linehan’s Father Ted, for instance, used the mechanics of the sit-com farce to say something about who we are, who we were and who we might become if we’re not careful. There is nothing like that in Zonad because there is nothing at all in Zonad.

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