Directed by: Colin and Greg Strause
Written by: Joshua Cordes, Liam O’Donnell
Starring: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Scottie Thompson, David Zayas
Skyline isn’t quite the penthouse – it’s more like a second floor walk-up.
Its lumpy story arc, profusion of vanishing plot elements, and inadvertent humor (second hand smoke) are easy targets for reviewers who only live to snark. So, spoiler alert – no snark in this review (well, maybe just a little). But in spite of these haute cinematique defects, in Skyline, The Brothers Strause (as they would like to be known) earnestly strive to give you an authentic alien invasion experience. Unfortunately, they need human characters to propel the story and engage our emotion. That’s where they come up a little short but, I suspect, not short enough to ruin a nicely detailed alien onslaught for SF fans.
With an excellent SFX resume (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2012, Fast and Furious) it’s no wonder The Brothers Strause introduce the movie’s lead – Eric Balfour as Jarrod – as a special FX genius called to L.A. to sign on with a well-known rapper. Jarrod’s “got the eye” and knows that “computers are just tools” so it’s a good fit for everyone except the writer of that line. Unfortunately, before Jarrod can bring his eye to bear on creative issues, the invaders fill his optics with more compelling sensations and his demise in the first reel is barely averted.
Enter the aliens, who are, after all, what we’re here to see. Wispy blue lights that stream down into L.A. signal their arrival. Their purpose is ominous but not entirely clear. Soon large ships break the clouds and hover over the city while the beams begin their “harvesting”. Throughout the movie, new alien models – small squid-like sniffers, tumbleweed ATVs with lobotomy capabilities, and mutant dinosaur rovers – each artfully detailed and fed into the action like you raise bets when you’re on a hot streak. As these new devices show off their unique talents, we get a couple out-of-your-seat moments, one of them concluding with a Michael Bay-esque helicopter smack down. The only inexplicable moment is when the Air Force actually brings down one of the big harvesters. What? No protective force fields? Perhaps they are advocates of the recent U.S. defense secretary’s doctrine (and I paraphrase), “You go to war with the army you have.”
There are some standard plot catalysts trotted out (e.g. mutation, surgical mining, pregnancy) but the filmmakers are so enamored with visualizing the invaders that little time is spent developing them. Mind you, this visual focus pays off with impressive panoramas and alien technology (the recycling pit on the alien ship is appropriately gruesome) but in the end we are always at a distance. With little connection to the human’s desperate fight for their survival, we are spectators not participants. As good as The Brothers’ visual imagination is, you need to connect with the human even in an alien invasion movie.
While we are at the lows, it must be said there are a few truly nonsensical moments. After escaping death by crushing, stomping, and sucking, Elaine asks Candice not to smoke because she’s pregnant. Out of their apartment window, L.A. is slowly being obliterated and she’s seriously concerned about second-hand smoke. And the previously mentioned double-pump ending I’m still scratching my head about – the music swells, our last two heroes are fading into the light and then… well, go see it. It’s a classic “huh?” moment.
Bottom line. If you’re making your first feature SF film, doing alien invasion is a challenge. Lots have been made and quite a few are very good – the original War of the Worlds and the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for example. Other successful invasion films have arrived with a fresh slant, such as District 9 and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Skyline lacks real brilliance and basically relies on better execution. It leaves you with the impression that once The Brothers Strause get a handle on the basics (script, story, acting etc) they will be quite good. So if you’re okay with a movie that offers excitement, a couple Spielbergian jumps out of your seat, and some takes on alien behavior in an erratic sort of way, spend the bucks and have some fun. Leave your cinema brain at home. Keeps it safe from the aliens too. — Curt
Recommended If You Like: War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Cloverfield