Zonad adopts an amusing, albeit thin, high-concept, string it along with energy and has the good sense to cease operations at the 70-minute mark. It’s a study in storytelling efficiency from co-writers/directors John and Kieran Carney, a picture without a single wasted scene and one that the creators of all upcoming Saturday Night Live movies should study.
An anachronistic blend of ’50s B movie tropes with the occasional modern touch, the narrative concerns an escaped mental patient named Liam Murphy (Simon Delaney) who dons a rubber suit and an oversized bicycle helmet, drops in on a small town full of naïve folk and claims he’s an alien named Zonad. The villagers accept him at face value and accord him a hero’s welcome. He’s offered free drinks at the pub, and put up by the Cassidy family, who think nothing of the attentions the overweight, middle-aged schlub shows their nubile schoolgirl daughter Jenny (Janice Byrne).
One’s response to Zonad depends entirely on how he feels about the premise, as the picture remains wedded to it, concretely ensconced in the farcical realm. There’s no probing below the surface to explore Zonad’s backstory and the villagers never get wise to his sham. Any lessons learned are secondary to the enduring absurdity. The actors keep their performances propelled at a relentlessly straightforward pitch, driving home each personality type’s single primary trait with steadfast sincerity.
The Carneys — facing the imposing task of following Once, John’s Academy Award-winning previous feature — smartly veer off in a significantly different direction, putting out a picture with no great ambition beyond making its audience laugh for a while. The only overlap between the prior film, a low-key drama about the romance between two street singers, and this one lies in the earnestness of the filmmaking, the refusal to adopt a cynical, removed perspective. The Carneys exude love for the innocence of their characters — forget the facts, is what the directors seem to be saying; more power to the people of Ballymoran if they want to believe in aliens.
The screenplay plays like a collection of one-liners and puns in search of a unifying whole, but they’re so well timed and expertly delivered by the actors that the shtick never tires. The filmmakers and their cast demonstrate a significant shared aptitude for the proper way to tell jokes on film, lingering just long enough on the punch lines while interweaving a precisely calibrated degree of knowing slyness. Epitomizing the “brevity is the soul of wit” aphorism, the Carneys’ movie is a frenetic, gleefully mindless 70-minute diversion, a lean, minor slice of comic smarts.