Gruesome reviews greet Ant and Dec's spoof autopsy film

As ritual humiliations go, it bears all the hallmarks of a "Bush Tucker Trial". The improbable film careers of the TV presenters Ant and Dec seem to be in question already, following a panning from critics over their debuts in Alien Autopsy.

The omens were hardly great for the Geordie duo, full names Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, when they chose for their big screen debut a spoof of the story of Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield, who claimed to have discovered footage of an alien that crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. "I think if anybody ever wanted to have a go, or criticise, this would be the opportunity," McPartlin said after he and Donnelly were selected for the roles. "But you've got to take risks and you've got to challenge yourself."

The film, which premiered in Newcastle ahead of London's West End, tells how Ray (Donnelly) conceives the idea of the hoax when he takes a trip to Cleveland, Ohio, to buy Elvis memorabilia for his London market stall. He buys footage there of the "autopsy" of the alien and finds it to be damaged so he and Gary (McPartlin) make their own. A sub-plot involves a documentary film-maker (Bill Pullman) persuading them to tell their story to his camera.

McPartlin and Donnelly were cast against their usual small screen roles in the film, with Ant transformed into the serious, bespectacled Gary and Dec is the rougher-edged, louder Ray. But there were some faintly encouraging noises from the weekend critics, including a pronouncement in the News of the World that the pair did "an OK job", and it was "worth missing that Saturday night takeaway to go and see it."

But, by yesterday, the pair were eating the cinematographic equivalent of witchetty grubs. The film, directed by the Shameless director Jonny Campbell was, according to James Christopher in The Times, "an utterly dismal attempt to craft a post-modern spoof out of a 60-year-old hoax".

Anthony Quinn, The Independent's critic, was equally unimpressed, writing: "Ant and Dec may be the princelings of prime-time TV but they're barely peasant-level in the big-screen stakes." BBC online's Neil Smith declared that the film was "too banal for adults, too gruesome for kids".

Ant and Dec could probably be forgiven for thinking they could convert this bizarre script into a hit. Since first finding fame on the small screen as PJ and Duncan in the BBC children's programme Byker Grove, the pair have rarely failed to find popularity - first in brief music careers, then as the self-styled kings of light entertainment with stints presenting Pop Idol, I'm a Celebrity ... and Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. Their latest TV undertaking - the first televised interview of Princes William and Harry with their father - is the most improbable of all.

The film has at least shed some light on the Roswell hoax. A sculptor who has designed the aliens for the film, John Humphreys, admitted yesterday that he created the models for the 1996 film which fooled some into thinking they were watching the dissection of a real-life extra-terrestrial.

Fortunately, the film's leading actors do seem to have prepared themselves for their worst. "This might be the only movie we ever make, the only premiere we ever have, so we just decided to enjoy it," Donnelly said before the film's screening in Leicester Square.

"We're signed to ITV to 2007 so certainly until the end of then we'll still be working on our TV projects. We wanted to see how this went and if viewers can think of us as these characters. If things come in, then we'll look at them but we're certainly not going to launch an assault on Tinseltown."

Panned by the critics

"Ant and Dec may be the princelings of prime-time TV but they're barely peasant-level in the big-screen stakes. Another British comedy for the slab."

Anthony Quinn, The Independent

"Alien Autopsy is an utterly dismal attempt to craft a post-modern spoof out of a 60-year-old hoax. The director, Jonny Campbell, applies the kiss of death to this dire nonsense by casting a couple of real aliens, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly (aka Ant and Dec)."

James Christopher, The Times

"ITV's most popular hosts have always loved Morecambe and Wise, and there is just one sequence in their first feature film that suggests they've learnt a few lessons from their heroes. The rest just isn't funny enough. The move from the small to the big screen very seldom works for comics. The comedy is ironic rather than farcical for the most part, and the belly laughs are very rare indeed."

Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard

"The central sequence is the highpoint of Campbell's movie. The remainder drags like one of its stars' game shows. All in all, a most peculiar vehicle for the Byker Grove duo that will probably lose them more fans than it gains."

Neil Smith on BBC website

"By taking roles in one of this year's most disappointing and dire comedies, McPartlin and Donnelly have ensured that they will be waiting another 10 years for an acting gig."

Joe Utichi, filmfocus.co.uk

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