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Attraction (2017)
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by Jay Seaver

"The day the earth stood still for a teenage girl."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's something of a pleasant surprise that "Attraction" is more of a Russian take on "The Day the Earth Stood Still" than "War of the Worlds" or "Independence Day", although I suspect that few looked at "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and thought that the movie needed more dumb teenagers, although it's possible. It makes the constantly changing impulses a bit more believable, at least, although is justifying the weak bits better than avoiding them?

As it opens, a Moscow high school class is more or less ignoring the teacher going on about the night's meteor shower - well, the nerd everyone calls "Google" (Evgeniy Mikheev) is interested, while Yulia Lebedeva (Irina Starshenbaum) and her friend Svetlana Morozova (Darya Rudenok) make plans to watch it from the top of Sveta's apartment building. Or not - "watching a meteor shower" makes for an excellent excuse for Yulia to sneak off with boyfriend Artyom (Alexander Petrov) without Yulia's strict military father Valentin (Oleg Menshikov) being terribly suspicious. It works out well until one of those meteors hits an alien spaceship, the spaceship crashes, and Sveta is in the impacted area that Valentin is placed in charge of securing. Yulia, Artyom, and some of his friends sneak in and find both some alien tech and an injured member of the crew - and this "Hakon" (Rinal Mukhametov) not only looks human, but kind of cute.

Though the film has its problems - it can tend toward spinning its wheels on the way to an extremely obvious "power of love/danger of jealousy" story - its heroine Yulia actually manages to grab hold of the movie once it had settled on her being basically decent and wanting to help, albeit in a somewhat entitled way (she is the type that rebels against her military father while still being comfortable throwing his weight around). Irina Starshenbaum has the right sort of attitude for the bratty but basically decent Yulia, and she's able to sell the necessary quick growth while still showing the same prickly exterior. She's kind of got to; neither Alexander Petrov or Rinal Mukhametov is nearly as charismatic in their parts as she is, leaving her having to do the heavy lifting to make those scenes compelling.

Not that any of the other characters are doing anything particularly unexpected; this is a movie that tends to reduce the thrill of first contact to a love triangle and never really puts an especially clever twist on it. It also pushes the big stuff back, with little interest in how the rest of the world will react until the movie needs the twenty-first century equivalent of villagers carrying torches. It's kind of a funny thing that how weak and clichéd much of the characterization is (and the focus on the teenage characters) manages to undermine one of the film's more interesting choices, where the military folks who maybe have some idea how well attacking a technologically superior opponent would go tend to be cautious while the civilian authorities are hotheads, a bit of an inversion from the usual. It's just that the movie as a whole is not clever enough for the audience to expect subversion there.

This apparently got a big Imax release in Russia, although it probably wouldn't make the cut elsewhere; it's got some nice design, and looks nice when things are holding still, but big effect scenes often look like a video game, weightless and not really part of the world around it. Director Fedor Bondarchuk (whose Stalingrad had a pretty fair-sized North American release) is a fair hand at the practical parts of the action, enough so that the basic silliness of the inevitable race to get a damaged piece of alien technology back to the ship doesn't keep it from working when push comes to shove in the last act. It doesn't outdo Hollywood productions which have an order of magnitude more to spend on visual effects, but it gets the job done when it could either send the audience out frustrated or satisfied.

As young-adult science fiction goes, "Attraction" isn't terrible or incompetently made; it just follows the playbook close enough that it needs the clever bits to outnumber the dumb ones rather than the other way around. That doesn't happen, and neither its likable star nor the chance to see a different city get clobbered by a crashing spaceship is quite enough to pull it out of too-long mediocrity.

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originally posted: 11/13/17 09:55:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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