Movie Review: 'Cloverfield'
In this brainchild of producer J.J.Abrams (TV's "Alias" and "Felicity," the last "Mission: Impossible" movie), a giant monster terrorizes a big city. Nothing new there.
But the entire film is presented in video footage recorded by a young man as he and several friends make their way through a ravaged Manhattan filled with unexpected dangers. The results turn the cheese into, if not a steak, at least a pretty tasty burger.
Written by Drew Goddard ("Lost," "Alias") and directed by feature first-timer Matt Reeves ("Felicity"), the picture begins with credits that identify what we're about to see as a document recovered from what was formerly Central Park. The video is in the possession of the U.S. military, which has given the incident the innocuous code name "Cloverfield."
Then we're plunged into ... well, an episode of "Felicity."
There's this big party, see, to say farewell to Rob (Michael Stahl-David), an upwardly mobile young guy (although he apparently cannot yet afford to shave regularly) who has been named vice-president of his company and will soon be transferred to Japan.
The shindig is being thrown by Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller).
We rarely see Hud but we hear a lot from him — he's been assigned to man a videocam and collect testimonials from all of Rob's friends. A likeable doofus, Hud uses the camera mostly to try to pick up Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a tart-tongued beauty who isn't buying.
He also stumbles across a juicy bit of gossip — Rob apparently has had a secret fling with his longtime gal pal Beth (Odette Yustman), who is angry because afterward he never called. Rob and Beth have a big argument and she storms off.
Rob is moping when, 20 minutes into the movie, all heck breaks lose.
The lights flicker and go out, the city erupts in explosions and the head of the Statue of Liberty comes careening down the street followed by a huge cloud of debris (eerie echoes of 9/11). Our characters (with Hud still recording the proceedings) try to flee across the Brooklyn Bridge, only to witness its collapse.
Rob, doing the male version of a woman who stops to pick up a puppy while fleeing a horrible creature, announces that he's going into the heart of the action to find and rescue Beth, thus proving his love. Everyone else goes along with this numbskull notion.
Ere long they're dodging bullets, roaring military vehicles and falling masonry. Hud is able to capture brief glimpses of the creature with his camera. Imagine a praying mantis melded with a salamander and dropping nasty "babies" that resemble large, voracious crabs.
Our twentysomething questers take to the subway — the trains aren't running but the tunnels will take them to Beth's upper West Side high rise. (By the way, what kind of work do these young folk do that allows them to live in apartments with million-dollar views? Maybe they're all drug dealers.)
Along the way they are attacked by the big crabs and meet some soldiers who inform them that the city is going to be nuked and that their last chance for escape is to get to a helicopter rendezvous point before 6 a.m. It's a race against time.
Yes, "Cloverfield" is preposterous. But by having the entire movie flowing through Hud's camera the filmmakers achieve a convincing verisimilitude. Instead of standing outside the movie looking in, we're immersed in the action.
The f/x guys have provided a seamless blending of computer-generated and real footage, and by limiting our perspective to just what Hud sees through his viewfinder the fantastic is rendered plausible.
The downside of this point-of-view filmmaking is that the movie often develops a bad case of shaky-cam. It's tough to get clear shots when the camera operator is running at full speed to escape some ghastly fate, and viewers with a low tolerance for jumpy footage may find "Cloverfield" more of a headache than they bargained for.
The film never tells us what the monster is or where it comes from. But the quick response of the military and their apparent knowledge of what happens to persons bitten by the crab-thingies suggests the beastie is an experiment gone south. "Cloverfield" smacks of a giant cover-up.
When in doubt, blame the government.
Get showtimes and movie details for "Cloverfield."