Tuesday, November 16, 2010


“Skyline,” the latest entry in “The War of the Worlds”/ “Independence Day” science fiction genre about aliens invading Earth, qualifies as an above-average opus with spectacular-looking alien spaceships as well as exotic airborne creatures with twitching tentacles galore. The first forty-five minutes of the Brothers Strause epic draws you into its enigmatic storyline with its vast horde of aliens and their way of mesmerizing their victims with blinding lights before they gobble them like snacks. Unfortunately, the second half of “Skyline” doesn’t provide any exposition and we are left watching helpless humans playing cat and mouse games with these ugly “Cloverfield” style predators. Meanwhile, the human characters in “Skyline” (**1/2 out of ****) are neither compelling nor sympathetic. First, they consist of clueless civilians confined to a high-rise apartment complex. Indeed, unlike the original “War of the Worlds” (1953) and “Independence Day,” “Skyline” doesn’t trot out the usual array of high ranking military leaders plotting strategy from secluded bunkers while bespectacled scientists scramble to invent technology capable of exterminating the aliens. Second, the cast consists of actors who are virtually unknown and lack even a modicum of charisma. It doesn’t help matters that nobody seems to know anything about these intergalactic predators. Indeed, you can either stun them if you smash a car into them or blast them to smithereens with anything from a high-powered assault rifle to explosive missiles. Nevertheless, these foes outnumber the heroes, and they give no quarter. Mind you, the aliens themselves never let us in on why they have decided to devastate the planet. Instead, they pig out on humans as if mankind were a seafood buffet, and the prime human delicacy for these entities is the human brain. They suck off the heads and eat the brains. Okay, a mind is a terrible thing to waste in “Skyline,” but there is something unusual about these aliens that distinguish them from most aliens. When they shine their blinding lights on these poor humans, the light turns humans into slightly grilled zombies. Sometimes the light enables our heroes to muster enough energy to fight back. Worst of all, “Skyline” doesn’t so much end as it screeches to a halt on a cliffhanger, leaving the hero and heroine in a beauty and the beast situation.

Elaine (Scottie Thompson of “Star Trek”) and Jarrod (Eric Balfour of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) are recuperating for a birthday party in Los Angeles thrown for Jarrod's best friend Terry (Donald Faison of “Next Day Air”) when blinding lights penetrate the shutters of Terry’s penthouse. Elaine awakens with a case of morning sickness and stumbles into the shower. Afterward, she rouses Jarrod who checks out the light. Suddenly, his skin crinkles into a veil of lines. At this point, sophomore co-directors Colin and Greg Strause, who helmed “AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem,” and freshmen scenarists Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell abruptly back up the action by fifteen hours. We see Elaine and Jarrod deplaning at Los Angeles International Airport. Jarrod is surprised to find a uniformed chauffeur waiting for them at the curb with a limo. The chauffeur takes them to a scenic Marina del Rey luxury penthouse apartment with giant windows where they meet Terry and the celebration begins. This is about the time that we learn Elaine is sick and Terry wants Jarrod to relocate from New York to Los Angeles to work for him. Later, after everybody has passed out from too much liquor, a shower of incandescent meteors scintillate the night skies over L.A. One of Terry’s friends who sacked out in the living room opens the shutters, and the dazzling lights lure him onto the balcony. Veins appear like burn wounds on his face, and protoplasm-like extraterrestrial invaders suck him and thousands of others into their mouths. Eventually, Jarrod and Terry investigate, principally through a telescope that they had used the evening before to spy on other residents. They are overwhelmed at the flotilla of bizarre-looking alien spacecraft filling the skyline. They figure out that they must not look into the light and close the shutters. Before long the alien creatures, flying around like inquisitive squid, send their tentacles into the apartments to feed on the residents. Naturally, our heroes learn nothing from television news sources and they venture outside for a better look. Initially, the military respond with marauder jets and snipers armed with .50 caliber rifles. Jarrod notices that nothing appears to be happening over the marina. Terry and he pile into cars with their girlfriends and c0-workers and head for the marina. They don’t get far before a humongous “Godzilla” like predator stomps Terry’s car. This gigantic beast chases them around the high-rise about the same time that a new character, Oliver (David Zayas of “The Expendables”), joins them. Earlier, during Terry’s birthday part, Oliver had warned them to tone down the racket. He has keys to everything in the high-rise, and the survivors regroup in Terry’s apartment. Helplessly, they stand by and watch the ensuing battle between mankind and these aliens.

Basically, if you’ve seen one alien invasion epic or television mini-series, you’ve seen them all. Only the aliens change. “Skyline” boasts some terrific looking aliens and these elaborate predators steal the show. Meantime, the humans are a dull, dreary lot waiting to be eaten. After the novelty of the aliens wears off and the Strause brothers show that these invades are vulnerable to conventional weapons, “Skyline” loses its grip on us. We still don’t know anything about these predators, except that they love to feed on brains. Undoubtedly, the Strause brothers were trying to figure out ways to avoid formula, but leaving out crucial scenes—such as the military and the scientists grappling with this alien threat—means that the suspense and tension evaporate. The last thing that the Strauses do is take us within the belly of these beasties where our heroes wind up with little hope for them and then “Skyline” ends with a whimper. Clearly, a sequel is in the works from this cliffhanger ending, but you walk out of this movie feeling like you have been cheated despite the film’s trim 92 minute running time. The only thing worse than a bad movie is a half of a bad movie!