Silver Screen: Skyline *
Effects wizards turned directors Colin and Greg, here pretentiously billed as "The Brothers Strause," essentially set out to make Cloverfield-meets-Independence Day in their new sci-fi thriller Skyline. (Cloverday? Independencefield?). Using Cloverfield's nifty fixed location and microcosmic take on a citywide disaster, they hope to stage an alien invasion on the cheap, and to that end they seem to have succeeded. Skyline is rumored to have cost about $10 million to make, which, as interplanetary conflicts go, is downright frugal.
The only thing we can take away from Skyline, however, is that technology has evolved to the point that blockbuster films can be made on a shoestring budget-- a Prada shoestring budget, anyway.
Eric Balfour (the annoying guy from Twenty-four and Six Feet Under, the cut of whose jib I do not like one bit) leads a cast of nobodies and erstwhile TV supporting players who all find themselves in a swanky Los Angeles apartment complex when the space invaders emerge from the green screen. Balfour (again: worst jib ever) plays Jarrod, a New York street artist whose old school buddy Terry (Scrubs' Donald Faison) has become a major player in Hollywood. Jarrod and his pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson-- definitely not the one from Kids in the Hall) are in town for Terry's lavish birthday bash, which gets cut short by UFOs that fire blasts of brilliant blue light onto the street. Humans are at first entranced, then controlled by the light, which sucks them up by the dozens into the ships above.
After a near miss with the hypnotic light, Jarrod and company lock themselves in the penthouse of the apartment building as the alien ships launch a series of further attacks that include flying predator machines and hulking biomechanical beasts. They buddy up with the building's security guard (Dexter's David Zayas), and alternate between arguing inside the apartment and watching the computer-generated chaos outside.
That's pretty much it. Once the invasion commences, not a damn thing happens in Skyline until the movie's final five minutes, which obnoxiously develop the kind of plot twist that might have been interesting back in the third act. As the film draws to its agonizing conclusion-- dubiously impressive, given that it only has an hour and a half to bore us all to popcorn buttertears-- it becomes clear that Skyline wasn't really even a movie, just an extended teaser for a franchise concept that, God, the studios, and the recession willing, will never come to pass. It's a slap in the face to everyone who paid ten bucks for a ticket to see what amounts to about half of a movie.
This has to be the most humdrum alien invasion of all time. The Strause brothers make no effort to conjure up a larger explanation for the aliens' behavior other than the zombie-familiar "Braaaains," and the bad guys utterly lack personality or definition. Their tactics are so thoroughly borrowed from War of the Worlds and a dozen other similar flicks that it's hard to imagine that humanity hasn't thought of a way to fight back against it by now.
Those effects are impressively rendered. The budget-consciousness is most apparent in the C-list actors and static location, but judging strictly on the visuals, you'd never guess Skyline was made on the cheap. Trouble is, even the effects look borrowed from other, better movies: from the cheap-and-easy lighting cues of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Independence Day's hovering ships and aerial battles to UFOs that look filched from District Nine and flying predators that bear a striking resemblance to the robot drones of The Matrix.
Their collective facility at the computer lets the Strause boys actualize just about anything they can imagine-- but their imaginations are sorely limited. In the digital age, when anything is possible on the big screen, the real trick is to dream up interesting possibilities.