'Skyline': Sci-Fi B Movie Crashes to Earth
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"Skyline," an elaborate-effects-laden sci-fi B picture, begins with a bang that turns out to be a bait-and-switch: By night, over Hollywood, iridescent blue balls -- alien probes, no doubt -- fall from the sky. They give off a lovely light, and in a penthouse, one of its young denizens, part of a crew that's been partying most of the night, walks to the window toward the light, seemingly hypnotized. And said light begins to sear the tattoo on his shoulder, and make the wispy facial hair on his upper lip and the bottom of his chin sizzle a bit, and he develops a very bad skin condition, which looks like the worst case of varicose veins of the cheekbones ever. "All right," one might say to oneself, "is this going to be 90 minutes of Hollywoodized faux hipsters getting incinerated by space monsters? Where have you been all my life, 'Skyline'!?"
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But, alas, the picture then goes into flashback mode, and soon enough we discover that not only is Mr. Wispy Facial Hair going to turn out to be something like the damn hero of the movie -- once the picture gets back to the "present," he's able to back away from the light and live, although his exposure leaves him changed ... somehow, as they say -- but that he's in the front line of a group of characters so trivial and shallow that they make those stupid teens from "Cloverfield" look like the dramatis personae of Chekhov's "The Seagull." The character (played by Eric Balfour, so relentlessly third-rate a screen presence that he comes off like somebody who's only hallucinating that he's Adrien Brody's less-arty, less-talented second cousin) also happens to be named Jared, so whenever anyone addresses him, you half expect them to continue by saying, "So what delicious Subway sandwich did you have today?"
In any event, once the humongoid alien invasion commences in full force -- complete with a fleet of spaceships whose undersides look like they've been constructed out of flying buttresses once found on gothic cathedrals (looks pretty neat, actually) -- the story, such as it is, mainly concerns itself with arguments as to whether everyone should stay in the penthouse or make a run for the nearby marina. More and more frequent attacks by the brain-sucking outer-space invaders -- who seem to have been mashed together out of the most grotesque elements from every E.T. to turn up in a movie since Ridley Scott's seminal, late '70s "Alien" -- don't come so much as frights or thrills as they do a form of relief: As long as the mayhem's going on, we're spared the dialogue. Here's a sample: During a lull in the action, one nerve-frazzled gal tries to light up a cigarette, only to be rebuked with "I'm pregnant, all right ... and I just thought that ... between all the stress ..." All right, indeed.
There's a bit of business here involving a telescope with a video camera attached that allows one of the characters to watch the explosions going on mere yards from him in reality on a video display. Directors Greg Strause and Colin Strause, helming special effects here under the credit "The Brothers Strause" (their prior feature in this capacity was the even more dire "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem"), convey this bit of data without even hinting at an ironic or satiric point. This says more about this movie's head than even its ludicrous denouement, which could only be called "video game-influenced" by someone who had last played a video game around 1989. In better news, the brothers ARE pretty good with the tentacled, stomping, brain-ingesting, blowing-stuff-up aspects of the visuals, which get even more fun as they grow cheesier -- or at least that's how it seemed to this fan of old-school sci-fi B pictures. As adept as they are at that stuff, they don't seem to have quite the same knack for simple suspense set pieces: Bits where the characters have to get from point A to point B before the gate that could block their way closes don't play well at all. But, then again, you might put that down to your not actually wanting the characters to make it.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.