Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Skyline review

Jerry (Eric Balfour, Six Feet Under) and his pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scotty Thompson, Trauma) fly to Los Angeles and are put up in the penthouse of Terry (Donald Faison, Scrubs), a childhood friend now living the high life, and his girlfriend (Brittany Daniel, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) for Terry’s birthday bash. They wake up the next morning when bright lights descend on the city, pulling people into the sky, and giant alien spaceships emerge from the clouds. The group hunker down where they are but their top floor penthouse perch makes them an easy target for the monsters who have declared war on everything around them.

Alien invasion films have a long history steeped in black and white camp. A good alien invasion movie celebrates this lineage as Independence Day - still the gold standard - did. Skyline is a more serious, somber movie that rejects it’s history in favor of emulating more recent monster/alien movies. It seeks to be a big budget thriller but it’s feet are cemented in low budget indie film constraints and unnecessarily dramatic pretension. Just show me some nasty aliens, cool space ships, have them blow things up and populate the film with strong characters willing to fight back and you’ve got me.

Skyline gets the first part right. The creature design is the reason to see the movie. The effects are terrific and are shown in all their glory early and often. We get war ships, flying squid-like drones and giant hulking beasts. And they’re nasty mothers too that can’t be reasoned with. And what they want from us humans, a bit of gore that pushes the PG-13 to the limit, is so deliciously ridiculous in a comic book type of way you read about but never really see on screen that it sold the aliens for me as characters able to stand up in their own franchise. They’re the nastiest, meanest things since Starship Troopers and the movie does a good job of bringing to life their human-snatching horror.

While we see a great deal of aliens, unfortunately Skyline spends a misguided amount of time on the humans as they bunker down in the penthouse and argue with each other. If you’re one of those people who always proclaims you’re smarter than the movie and that you would just stay put and let the danger pass, this is the movie for you. And it’s about as exciting as that scenario plays out. All of their attempts to escape end in disaster forcing them right back into the penthouse to watch the chaos out the window.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with confined cinema, some of the best monster movies ever have played out the drama over TVs and radios while people hunkered in place. But the hunkering can’t just be filler. It has to be part of the story, the characters need to be strong enough to hold up these sections and they need interesting things to say. Special Effects guys, the Strause brothers have no idea what to do with actors. Where to put them, what to have them say, how to have them relate to one another. This is the dumbest, most unpleasant lot you’d ever want to spend the end of the world with (save for John Cusack in 2012 that is). The men go on macho missions to check things out that end in failure and the women spend the time shrieking hysterically and cowering in fear. The Strause brothers have populated the film with TV actors (also including a Dexter’sDavid Zayas) who can’t carry the scenes with Balfour unable to get in the big shoes of hero and Faison unable to conjure up a shred of his Scrubs charm. I’m not even quite clear what Faison’s Terry does in the industry that got him the penthouse. The Strause brothers must think they’re circumventing cliched characters by not giving anyone a character or a backstory at all.

The Strause brothers come to this off of the atrocious franchise abortion Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. They’re an inept duo so even with it’s obnoxiousness, Skylineis a step up. The special effects are great and a few of the action scenes at least look great, even if the Strause’s still haven’t figured out how to create tension from them and the shots are so lens-flare heavy they might require donning sunglasses even on the midnight movie schedule the movie will play best on.

But it’s a bad sign when you’re watching a film and already re-editing it in your head. 10 minutes in and I had mentally lobbed off a pointless opening teaser. Viewers will have their mental edits on overdrive when the movie wobbles into home unable to decide on an ending. It presents us with a Night of the Living Dead somber ending, one that I could at least respect, and then cowardly backs away from it to end on a cliffhanger that is just head-scratching. A sporadically entertaining waste of time.

Written by Charlie

No comments:

Post a Comment