In ‘Skyline,’ awful is not an alien concept
There’s a particularly insulting kind of awful movie that doesn’t leave you mad at the director (but you could be) or the cast (even though they’re mostly awful, too). You’re just left annoyed with a culture in which all a studio has to do for a gigantic opening weekend is buy ad time during football games, wrestling matches, and whatever trends in drama continue to erode NBC’s programming sense. To see “Skyline,’’ a science fiction action movie that opens this weekend, is to wonder why you’re watching it.
The trailers tell you nothing about why what’s happening is happening. An alien ship vacuums Los Angeles free of people (the hovering craft could have been made by Dyson). Of course, if you’ve ever seen any work of alien invasion or alien confrontation, a proper explanation might not be necessary. “Skyline’’ is basically every such movie, with a finale that the makers of “Aliens’’ and “The Matrix’’ wouldn’t be wrong to find actionable.
Beholding the movie’s hulking metallic-reptile-invaders look is like spending the evening at Rick Baker’s alien waxworks. The plot, as it were, is even less original. At some point, the wealthiest of the five humans we’re trapped with intuits that the right thing to do is head to his powerboat. From where but the video store does this instinct arise? (Water kills most movie aliens.)
The movie is the second by Colin and Greg Strause, American visual-effects guys, who, as directors of commercials. music videos, and movies, go by the risibly pretentious “Brothers Strause.’’ Their previous outing was “AVPR: Alien Vs. Predator Requiem,’’ hence the creatures in this new venture. The titling this time is more digestible. The moviemaking is something else. With apologies to the screenwriters, Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell, “Skyline’’ doesn’t have a story so much as it has an object: Flee the high-rise or perish. George Romero and John Carpenter built fine careers on that premise, although they never used this much slow motion. The Strauses don’t care about how to keep an audience. Their movie has no sense of suspense or dread — “Skyline’’ is an apocalypse movie that plods like one of Romero’s zombies.
These aren’t moviemakers who live even in other movies, let alone the world. They live in hard drives. And so, as you might expect, the effects aren’t bad. The actors — Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, David Zayas, the peerlessly whatever Brittany Daniel — and the audience are props. As the cast members run for their lives, you almost hope they don’t make it, just to see what the computer-generated aliens can do. In that sense the movie feels like a trade-show demo for what nifty visual tricks the Strauses can supply for your blockbuster — and cheaply. TheWrap.com reported the budget to be $20 million, which is what “Avatar’’ spent on digital body paint. Selling “Skyline’’ probably cost the same. The Strauses might take that as a compliment. But only in other hands would it be money well spent.