November 13, 2010

Skyline

half

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Skyline

SCIENCE FICTION:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-11-12

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, David Zayas, Donald Faison

Director:

The Brothers Strause

Screenplay:

Joshua Cordes & Liam O'Donnell

Cinematography:

Michael Watson

Music:

Matthew Margeson

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


After the release of their first high-profile directorial effort, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, co-directors Greg and Colin Strause publicly lambasted Fox for ruining their movie. Now, three years later with Skyline, they have an opportunity to show what they can do without studio interference. The result does not argue in the Strauses' favor. Ultimately, there was no saving Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, and there's no saving Skyline. Some will, I'm sure, opine that this movie entertains because it's "so bad, it's good." That's not my impression. For me, it's just plain bad. Boring. Unwatchable. How this managed not to go direct-to-DVD (and actually get a wide distribution rather than just a handful-of-theaters dump) is one of 2010's great cinematic mysteries.

If I was nine years old and a filmmaker, this is the kind of movie I might make. Lots of special effects shots of spaceships. A few dogfights. Things blowing up. Cool blue lights. Monsters rumbling through L.A. tearing up buildings and eating people's brains. A nuclear bomb going off. Characters? We don't need no stinkin' characters. A coherent plot? Don't really need that, either. Acting? If I didn't know better, I'd think these were porn actors moonlighting with their clothes on. They certainly deliver dialogue that way. At age nine, I would have lapped it all up - except the occasional patches of "character building" during which nothing happens. Those are spaced out to allow for frequent bathroom breaks or trips to the concession stand.

Skyline begins on a high note: alien attack! Brilliant blue streaks pepper Los Angeles. The protagonists, Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson), are awakened at 4 a.m. by a bright light outside their window. When Jarrod goes to investigate, he undergoes a gnarly transformation. Then the screenplay missteps by rewinding the action by 15 hours and introducing us to the characters who will plague the movie for the rest of its misbegotten running length. In addition to Jarrod and Elaine, who are vacationing on the West Coast, we meet Terry (Donald Faison), an old buddy of Jarrod's who has hit the big time in Hollywood; Candice (Brittany Daniel), Terry's blonde bimbo wife; Denise (Crystal Reed), Terry's brunette bimbo mistress; and Oliver (David Zayas), the badass guy who sits behind the desk in the apartment lobby.

Once we endure the 15-minute "getting to know them" flashback sequence, which proves beyond a doubt that the directors can't direct, the writers can't write, and the actor's can't act, it's back to the present and the alien invasion, which turns out to be a snooze. Skyline has one primary action sequence, which occurs when a bunch of people flee the apartment building for a marina and several end up dead. Other than that, it's mostly the survivors holed up on a penthouse watching things transpire through a telescope. When a nuclear bomb explodes, the building barely shakes. Skyline isn't interested in putting the "science" back in "science fiction."

Skyline is a pastiche of the worst moments from every alien invasion movie imaginable. Big, unwieldy mother ships hovering in the skies. Cities in ruins. Dumb people doing inexplicable things. Characters we don't care about dropping like flies. Nearly every scene that's done with a degree of competence (not many, admittedly) provokes this reaction: "I've seen that before and it was better in the other movie." Even if "the other movie" is something cheesy like Independence Day. Yes, Skyline does the seemingly impossible and makes Independence Day look good. For that matter, it makes the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin Independence Day follow-up, Godzilla, look good. And that is an achievement.

The Brothers Strauses' background is in visual effects, which may explain why they treat the human actors with all the care and dignity accorded to any other wooden prop. Unfortunately, the special effects aren't anything to get excited about. The CGI is pretty, but is it much better than what can be achieved by a truly talented kid with a computer and an advanced graphics program? There's no invention in any of the shots - nothing to surprise or delight, nothing that would encourage us to buy a copy for home viewing so we can experience it over and over again. The creatures look silly, with their blue, flashing LEDs and rock-like appearance. There's a scene in which Jarrod is beating to death one of the smaller monsters with a cinder block, and it looks like he's pounding on a bean bag chair. Suddenly, I appreciate the technical aptitude of Transformers. That too is an achievement.

Most alien invasion movies focus on important people - Presidents, high-ranking military officials, the everyday guy who leads the final fight for freedom. Skyline trains its cameras on inconsequential individuals who serve no important function. They are witnesses. It's an interesting conceit and it has been used to good effect in films like Cloverfield and Monsters. What about the "little people," the men and women who are dispatched with little compunction in a throw-away scene? Skyline wants to be about them, but it botches the job by failing to make us care about its characters. Jarrod and Elaine are so hollow that whether they live or die is a matter of complete indifference. Some have decried the ending of Skyline as being horrifically bad. On one level, I suppose I agree. But by the time the 90 minute endurance contest is at an end, I cared so little that the last "twist" didn't raise my ire. What right does one have to expect something different after 85 minutes of largely incompetent filmmaking?

Is Skyline the worst film of 2010? Possibly, but there's still another month-and-a-half to go. Plenty of time for something worse to come along. Still, if it happens, that will be an achievement to dwarf all others.

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