by Mel Valentin
To call "Skyline," Greg and Colin Strause’s self-financed directorial effort (their second after 2008’s execrable "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem"), uninspired, derivative, and underwhelming would be an understatement. A science-fiction/horror thriller mash-up that shamelessly, blatantly rips off "War of the Worlds," "Independence Day," "District 9," "Cloverfield," and "The Matrix" (among others),"Skyline" proves what critics, bloggers, and moviegoers suspected after "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem," the Brothers Strause, while obviously knowing their way around complex, challenging visual effects and effects-heavy sequences, apparently lack basic storytelling skills (e.g., character, plot, pacing, etc.).Working from an underwritten, unpolished script by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, the Brothers Strause set Skyline in Los Angeles, Marina del Rey to be exact where the brothers own a condo. To save on production costs, the Brothers Strause made Skyline the equivalent of a “bottle show,” a phrase commonly used for single-set television episodes on network series. Events occur in and around Los Angeles, but Skyline doesn’t leave the condo or its immediate environment. Scenes are set either in the condo itself, on the stairs, on the roof, or in the parking garage. That might have saved costs (a reported $500,000 was spent on production), but it also neutered whatever dramatic conflict, tension, and suspense [Skyline could have had.
"There is no escape. There is no hope. Prepare for the sci-fi rapture."
It doesn’t help that the characters in Skyline are one-dimensional, their clichéd backstories quickly sketched in, and their interpersonal conflicts shallow and repetitive (i.e., staying or going, going or staying, rinse, repeat ad nauseum). Skyline’s nominal hero, the unfortunately named Jarrod (Eric Balfour), is a struggling artist of some kind. The only evidence we have that he’s an artist is a scrapbook filled with graffiti-inspired drawings (seriously, that’s it). Jarrod and his girlfriend, Elaine (Scottie Thompson), have flown from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate Terry’s (Donald Faison) birthday. Terry, Jarrod’s high-school best friend, wants Jarrod to join his successful visual effects company (an over-obvious connection to the Brothers Strause which suggests Terry’s modeled on one or both brothers).
At the party, Jarrod discovers Elaine’s pregnant, unsurprisingly blowing Jarrod’s mind. After Jarrod gives Elaine the “I’m not ready” speech (cue Jarrod’s character arc), the party winds down and the guests depart. Terry retires with his girlfriend, Candice (Brittany Daniel), while two of his employees, Denise (Crystal Reed) and Ray (Neil Hopkins), crash in the living room. Super-bright, blue lights wake up Denise and Ray before dawn. Ray’s the first to go, drawn inexorably toward an enveloping blue light. Jarrod almost gets pulled in too, but he’s saved in time. Before long, Jarrod and Terry are on the roof, passively watching as gigantic alien spaceships hover over LA, sucking up LA’s human population into their bowels.
Skyline quickly devolves into a series of static arguments, should they remain in the relative safety of Terry’s condo or should they attempt to escape. Conveniently, Terry has a boat docked in the marina, but with the alien spaceships disgorging scout ships (to scoop up stragglers) and forty-foot walkers (same reason, apparently), escape seems impossible. In one of many obvious nods to War of the Worlds and Independence Day, the U.S. military steps up to take action, all of which Jarrod, Elaine, Terry, and the others, including a late addition, Oliver (David Zayas), watch through blinds, a telescope, or on television (presumably the condo’s equipped with back-up generators to keep the electricity flowing).Meanwhile, little or nothing actually goes on inside the condo, dialogue switches up between the tolerably banal to the intolerably histrionic (with awkward, SyFy Channel-quality performances to match), and the Brothers Strause step up to do what they do best: epic-scale spectacle, mayhem, and destruction, all the more impressive for the limited budget involved (the number has ranged from $10-$20 million). When they’re forced to return to the characters’ plight back at the condo, they seemingly lose interest (as do we), only picking up near the end when "Skyline" takes a plot turn so ludicrous, so absurd, so ridiculous that it must be seen and heard to be disbelieved. It almost (operative word being “almost” saves "Skyline" from abject mediocrity, optimistically promising us a far more intriguing second film. Given everything that precedes that ending, however, it’s unlikely the Brothers Strause will get a chance to make that sequel. Here’s hoping, incredibly enough, that they do.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=21236&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/14/10 06:00:00