Distraction is one of Hollywood's greatest assets. People are easily distracted by damn near anything, and in movies it becomes crucial. Story doesn't quite make sense? Make an explosion or a tidal wave. Character development not going so well? Throw a love story in and a sex scene for good measure. If you make things complicated enough, the audience really has nowhere to go and just takes things as they come, allowing for some absolutely implausible things to happen. For Kurt Matilla and Matt Checkowski's The Alibi, distraction is the name of the game, but it's all in the name of fun.Steve Coogan, in what seems destined to be only his first Hollywood film, plays Ray Elliott, a man who has built a business around making it safe for people to cheat on their spouses. Through contacts and an outlandishly complex phone and computer system, Elliott has set up alibis for literally hundreds of people who need a quick romp in the sack. While handling his favorite client, Bob (a cheeky James Brolin), Ray decides to hire Lola (Rebecca Romijn) as his new assistant and is asked to handle one last personal case for Bob: an alibi for his son Wendell. As Wendell is getting his freak on in the clear, he accidentally kills the girl he's with and Ray is forced to cover it up, something he vows never to do. Soon enough, the girl's boyfriend (John Leguizamo), a cop (Debi Mazar), and a Mormon assassin (Sam Elliott) are all after Ray and he has to mislead all of them to make sure he can quit and run away with Lola, who has indeed fallen for him even though they only have a handful of scenes together (a largely undisputed problem with many romantic subplots).With a runtime just a tad shy of 90 minutes, The Alibi can't handle all these characters, even if it all just comes back to Ray. Talented actors like Leguizamo, Selma Blair, and the great Elliott play their parts well but are given no room to dig into the roles. In fact, the structure of the film introduces each of these characters as a threat then moves straight into how they get duped by Ray. Writer Noah Hawley seems so interested in the quirkiness and silliness of his characters that he doesn't take time to really bring them to life and make them work their mojo on the film.What keeps the film from being a disaster is Coogan, who gives Ray so much wise-ass, dry-as-a-martini charm that we are simply enamored with laughter every time he comes on screen. Although he seems more at home with indie masterpieces like 24 Hour Party People
and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Coogan has an odd way of keeping us interested in things when Matilla, Checkowski, and cinematographer Enrique Chediak are just fine playing things safe and harmless. In the end, the problem comes down to conflict: there is none. The minute danger is introduced to Ray or the storyline, it becomes clear that Ray can handle it and that there really is no threat at all. Therefore, none of the characters stick, because we know they're all just small-timers compared to Ray. But as far as distraction goes, Coogan has got the whole game wired.