A film review by Craig J. Koban November 26, 2010



2010, PG-13, 92 mins.


Eric Balfour: Jarrod / Scottie Thompson: Elaine / Brittany Daniel: Candice / David Zayas: Oliver / Donald Faison (Terry)

Directed by the Brothers Strause / Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell

SKYLINE is one of the most punishingly awful alien invasion films that I’ve seen.  The most memorable thing that I will take from it is that I wanted it to be over so I could leave the theatre at about the ten-minute mark.  Even worse is that the astronomically inept screenplay is merciless for bombarding viewers with characters that are real double-threats: they are completely unlikable yuppies and are mind-numbingly stupid.  They fit so neatly into the “Idiot Plot Syndrome” that you grow to admire their galactic incompetence.  Few films have moronic characters making every unconditionally idiotic choice available to them in response to an extra-terrestrial invasion like SKYLINE offers.  This might be the first invasion film where you want humanity to die and die quickly. 

I can forgive a film for plagiarizing (ahem, paying tribute to) other similar sci-fi films like INDEPENDENCE DAY, CLOVERFIELD, WAR OF THE WORLDS and DISTRICT 9, but when teeth-grating derivativeness morphs into insipidness and unintentional hilarity throughout, then you know you're in trouble.  Scary monster flicks should frighten and thrill, but SKYLINE is so criminally lacking in even minimalist levels of suspense that you want to reach out and check the collective pulses of everyone on board that made this film.  There is no tension, no sense of urgency, and, most importantly, no chair-grabbing scares to be had all throughout SKYLINE, just an unwatchably forgettable film about dumb characters we don’t care about at all doing inexplicably silly things that lead to them being served up for the alien slaughter.  

The film begins with a scintilla of promise: brain-hungry (no, seriously) aliens from outer space come to earth and attack without warning.  No wasteful exposition, no rationale as to why, no nothing; they just come within the first few seconds of the film in the form of brilliant, Na’vi blue streaks that come from the night skies and hit the ground in L.A..  The “heroes” (ha-ha-ha!) are Jarrod (Eric Balfour, so laughably stiff and mannered that an inanimate Ken doll could have emoted more) and his girlfriend, Elaine (the ravishingly easy-on-the eyes Scottie Thompson) awake from their beds at the wee hours of the morning to the light.  When Jerrod opens the blinds and peeks outside, he is penetrated by the otherworldly blu-rays and starts to undergo some sort of grisly transformation (his eyes gloss over, blue veins protrude everywhere, and he becomes zombified).  When his friends help him against his will to not look at the lights anymore, he reverts back to his human self. 

These opening few minutes are interesting, but then the screenplay makes an unpardonable mistake by flashbacking “15 hours” into the past to provide some of the most uninspired and boring character development segments you're likely to find in a film all year.  After Jarrod and Elaine – who are vacationing in California and are unexpectedly expecting a child together – we meet a bunch of their West Coast friends that are equally tedious.  There is Terry (Donald Faison) an old friend of Jarrod’s that has become a big success in California; his blonde floozy of a wife (Crystal Reed); and his equally slutty mistress.  They all hook up and gather in character building moments that involve Jarrod and Terry reconnecting, Terry offering a job opportunity for his buddy, Jerrod having issues with coming to grips with fatherdom…and all other forms of inexcusably watch-checking melodrama that guarantees that you will not feel any remorse for any of them when the aliens come a knocking.   

Developing the head-scratching trivialities of these cardboard cut-outs masquerading as characters is SKYLINE’s most abortive creative decision, and when the film’s script brings us back to the present and begins to show the full, earth-kicking arsenal of the alien invaders we have perhaps the only viable sequences that show some visual interest.  The swarm of cyboric, tentacle-adorned creatures come in all forms and sizes: some are small drones, others are multi-limbed beasts the size of King Kong, and others zip around in smaller-ships that intercept the U.S. military’s drones, F-16s, and stealth bombers.  They all, of course, come in the standard order, obligatory city-sized mothership that seems hopelessly impenetrable.   

At this point "The Idiot Plot Syndrome” kicks into hyperspace.  It’s clearly established that staring into the alien’s LED-like blue lasers will cause nearly irrecoverable harm to humans, so instead of staying within the confines of Terry’s high-rise condo, all of the surviving characters decide to go outside, grab a couple of cars, and escape the city.  When this initial plan is thwarted by the sudden appearance of gargantuan alien monstrosity, they head back inside for cover.  Yet, even when an attempted Nuclear missile strike against the mothership fails miserably, Jarrod convinces Elaine that they would still fare better outdoors than inside.  Now, Jarrod is either tenaciously courageous or the stupidest hero in action-thriller history.  Clearly, he is unafraid of the unrelentingly hostility and vastly superior powers of the aliens and their crafts, but he also seems equally fearless with going outside with his preggers wife after a nuke has just been set off in the city.  He obviously has also never heard of radiation.  Okay, the dude's an imbecile.   

Startling incompetence just stains this film:  I giggled after the nuclear warhead hit the mothership, creating an enormous mushroom cloud in L.A., but in subsequent scenes the city looks relatively pristine, not to mention that the brightly hued skies and atmosphere show no outward effects of nuclear winter and/or fallout.  I also laughed at a would-be awesome moment of Jerrod picking up a cinder block and continually bashing one of the more diminutive alien beasties followed by him giving it a fist pummeling that is positively uproarious.  Then we are given painfully routine segments where the characters scream “ruuunnnn” and “noooooo” followed by quieter, introspective moments when they spew out cookie cutter lines like, “You can’t go out there” and “What are we gonna do now?”  In response to the latter, I suggest acting off of a serviceable screenplay. 

Perhaps the most alarmingly absurd moment of SKYLINE comes with its ending, which just might be the most mind-blowingly ridiculous conclusion ever presented in a mainstream sci-fi flick.   Without giving too much away, we do get a glimpse of a few of the main survivors trapped with the dark, dreary, and gooey surroundings of the  mothership interior, where we see the processes involved with taking the human captors and converting their brains into a workable fuel source (it’s funny, technologically superlative aliens capable of interstellar, light-speed travel must rely on slurping human brains to continue to function).  When we then see the what happens to one key character after a – shall we say – interspecies melding of the minds and body – SKYLINE becomes so pitifully cartoonish that you pray it to abruptly end.  Thankfully, it does at this point. 

Only two things are decent about this film: Scottie Thompson is a naturally beautiful presence to gaze at and admire in the film and – at a scant, bargain basement sum of a reported $15-20 million – the film’s effects are competently polished and can match a film ten times its cost.  The film was the brainchild of the “Brothers Strause” – Illinois-born siblings that began their careers working on visual effects productions raging from TITANIC, 300, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, FANTASTIC FOUR, and even AVATAR.  SKYLINE is their second feature film as directors (following ALIENS VS. PREDATORS: REQUIEM) and they show decent skills at throwing up eye candy on screen.    

Yet, someone needed to tells these guys that a workable sci-fi effort needs to be more than just a scattershot “best-of” reel of proficient visual effects.  The effects, yes, are good looking, but there is no wide-eyed inspiration or fruitful imagination in them.  They linger on the screen amidst a script that is peppered by annoyingly functionless characters that under no circumstance garners our emotional rooting interest. So self-indulgently blinded by the quality of their final product, the Brothers Strause have insisted that they will make a sequel to SKYLINE even if they have to find their own money and  distributors to do so.  Now that’s scarier than the prospect of an alien invasion eradicating humanity.   

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