Tuesday, February 6, 2018


(US - 2018)

Directed by Julius Onah. Written by Oren Uziel. Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Clover Nee, Donal Logue, Suzanne Cryer, voices of Ken Olin, Simon Pegg, Greg Grunberg. (Unrated, 102 mins)

Though word began leaking online before it was official, Netflix pulled off one of the more ingenious marketing events in recent memory by running a trailer for THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX during the Super Bowl and then making it available to stream immediately following the game. Whether this release strategy is the "game changer" that many were inclined to call it remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is not. Shot two years ago under the title GOD PARTICLE, and turned into a CLOVERFIELD movie by producer J.J. Abrams very late in production--a move that necessitated rewrites and reshoots (2016's 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was also a pre-existing script retrofitted into the tenuous CLOVERFIELD universe)--THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (also called CLOVERFIELD STATION at one time) was originally set to be released in February 2017, but Paramount kept shuffling it around, unable to settle on a date. It was first moved to fall 2017, then February 2018, and finally April 2018, but in recent weeks, the studio canceled the theatrical release and decided to sell it to Netflix, a move very similar to the release plan for Alex Garland's upcoming ANNIHILATION, which is debuting on Netflix everywhere in the world except North America and China later in February. Paramount said that test audiences found ANNIHILATION "too intellectual," so perhaps they're skittish about losing money on it, but no such excuse was given for THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. No, the reason they pawned this off is obvious: it's just terrible.

The film opens on Earth as scientist Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from the BLACK MIRROR episode "San Junipero") and her husband Michael (Roger Davies) are still grieving the loss of their two children in a fire. The world is in the midst of an energy crisis and Ava has a chance to be part of a several-year mission aboard the Cloverfield space station to ignite the Shepard particle accelerator which, if successful, will replenish the planet's energy supply. Michael encourages her to go and the film cuts to two years later. British Ava is aboard the station with an international crew: American commander Kiel (David Oyelowo), German Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Russian Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Irish Mundy (Chris O'Dowd), Brazilian Acosta (John Ortiz), and Chinese Tam (Zhang Ziyi), who speaks only in subtitled Mandarin but is perfectly understood by the English-speaking crew in one of the more cumbersome concessions to the lucrative Asian market you'll see this year. Tensions at home between Germany and Russia are reflected in a throwdown between Schmidt and anger management case Volkov, but that gets sidelined after a systems overload causes them to lose contact with Earth. Strange things start to occur: a stowaway named Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) is found behind a panel with the electrical wiring fused with her body and the volatile Volkov barfs a geyser of worms and dies. Jensen claims to be a member of the crew even though no one knows her. She even says she knows Ava from the academy and that Ava is currently a civilian coordinator working at the command center on Earth, and warns them all "Don't trust Schmidt." Physicist Schmidt concludes that they've entered another dimension and they're currently traversing what he calls "two distinct realities fighting to occupy the same space, creating chaos," a perfect metaphor for trying to shoehorn CLOVERFIELD into an existing script. In one reality, Ava is part of the Cloverfield crew and in another, she's on Earth and her kids are still alive. Both realities are duking it out and things get even more complicated when they enter a third reality, and I haven't even mentioned Mundy's arm being severed and dragging itself around the ship like something out of an old horror movie, even writing cryptic warnings like "Cut open Volkov," after which they find the ship's missing gyroscope hidden in his stomach.

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX sounds insane enough to be entertaining, but it's an absolute mess. Mbatha-Raw turns in a solid performance, but she can't overcome the obstacles working against her. There's no dramatic momentum, it's excruciatingly dull, plot threads are unexplored or abandoned (there's a lot of time spent cutting to Michael on Earth, where he's rescued a little girl and seems to be taking refuge in John Goodman's 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE bunker), Mundy's comic relief falls flat ("What are ya talkin' about, arm?" he pleads with his severed arm), and at some point, Jensen becomes the villain but the hows and whys are maddeningly vague. Writer Oren Uziel (22 JUMP STREET, SHIMMER LAKE) and director Julius Onah spend most of the film fashioning a throwback to space movies of the late '90s and early-to-mid '00s like EVENT HORIZON, SUNSHINE, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE and the VHS obscurity THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, with a tacked-on "Hey, let's make it a CLOVERFIELD movie!" ending that looks like it was lifted directly from last year's LIFE. The stowaway saboteur element with Debicki's Jensen plays exactly like Peter Facinelli's villain in the megabomb SUPERNOVA, and speaking of, the infamously troubled SUPERNOVA is probably a better and more coherent movie than THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. The abrupt ending and final shot seem arbitrary, with no real rhyme or reason to what makes up the CLOVERFIELD universe (the thought process behind these movies is the same as when Dimension wedged Pinhead into a bunch of existing scripts to make all those DTV HELLRAISER sequels a decade and a half ago), and while it tries to tie in the events of the first film from way back in the halcyon days of found footage in 2008, it doesn't seem to be following its own internal history. There's no master plan to the CLOVERFIELD franchise--they're just movies that become CLOVERFIELD movies at some point near the end of production. Abrams could just throw a random giant monster into the very last shot of PHANTOM THREAD and call it CLOVERFIELD THREAD and it would be just as valid an entry into the series as PARADOX. With over a year's worth of delayed release dates resulting in a surprise Netflix dumping advertised during one of the most-watched television events of the year, there's no denying the smart salesmanship behind the unveiling of THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. At the same time, there's also no denying that Paramount clearly knew they stepped in a pile of shit and didn't want to be the ones standing there when everyone started to notice the stench.

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