Cloverfield (2008)

Badly flawed

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on January 31, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

I think when they started filming Cloverfield, somebody accidentally dropped the camera. Someone else said, "Cool."

So they kept dropping the camera. And they threw it, and jerked it, and kicked it. And it went into terminal spasms.

But Cloverfield is more cinema merde than cinema verite.

The most stunning thing about Cloverfield is not its St. Vitus Dance routine; it's the box office opening of this spastic home movie. The opening weekend of Cloverfield at the box office was $41 million, which is the biggest opening ever for any movie in January. Ever!

Why?

Advertising is all. This very minor movie has been promoted virally on the internet. YouTube, and points unknown. It's the biggest promotion since WMD, and just as aimless.

The plot of Cloverfield is scant. It begins at a surprise party of 20-somethings in a Manhattan apartment to celebrate the send-off of one of their own to a job in Japan. It may be the dullest party in the history of movies.

The brother of the erstwhile traveler commandeers a friend to capture on video the event and various testimonials of people at the party. Damn camcorders! What happens on the camcorder should stay in the camcorder. Unfortunately, we are

not so lucky.

The dialogue at the party should not be kept for posterity. One partygoer says, "What's up?" In answer, another partygoer responds, "What's up, Dude?" Banality, fatuity and insipidness is up, Dude.

There's also breathless gossip: "Rob and Beth had sex." Which ones were Rob and Beth again? If I want to get into the mind of one of these 20-somethings, I'll have a lobotomy.

After 20 minutes or so of interminable partying, the scintillating repartee is interrupted by an explosion downtown, and chaos strikes the party. Something lethal is out there. So they leave the toxic party.

A small group of intrepid partygoers decides to escape from the city; they try to go across the Brooklyn Bridge. When that doesn't work out, they decide to go through a subway tunnel.

Then Rob, obviously motivated by the fact that he finally had sex, decides to go back to rescue Beth from her apartment. Why the others follow is not clear. Maybe they're voyeurs. It doesn't matter, nothing really makes much sense in this movie.

It turns out Manhattan is being devastated by a monster and some squiggly things that fall off it. The hulking monster is something of a letdown. He reminded me of Baby Huey. But he has firepower. Where exactly did that come from? Since the monster is for the YouTube generation, maybe he should be  called iPod--zilla.

Cloverfield is not as interesting as The Blair Witch Project (1999), which also used handheld camera, but was a better film.

Cloverfield has just one thing going for it: It’s a visceral experience. But other than viscerally, Cloverfield is pointless.

The acting is almost non-existent, a would-be emoter throws his hand over his face to try to show grief. The characters are undefined; one character is blandly interchangeable with another. The dialogue doesn't have a single good line.

The crew and cast are escapees from television where they obtained their shaky claims to fame.

First-time feature director Matt Reeves directed five episodes of Felicity, and writer Drew Goddard wrote six episodes of Lost. Goddard is not much of a writer; he's more a gadfly flitting around a steaming pile of tv wannabe actors.

The TV emigrants are a bland collection: Lizzy Caplan (Marlena) was in 19 episodes of The Class; T.J. Miller, who plays Hud who uses the video camera, was in nine episodes of The Carpoolers; Jessica Lucas (Lily) was in four episodes of CSI; Michael Stahl-David (Rob) was in 14 episodes of The Black Donnellys; and Odette Yustman (Beth) was in 15 episodes of October Road. They will not be missed.

The less you care about acting, writing, and style, the more this movie is for you. Who knows how long this faddish experiment will last, but eventually Cloverfield will wind up on the shelf with the hula hoop and pet rock.

Cloverfield has an audience -- the one that thought Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds demanded too much thought.

Actually Cloverfield might have been made by Spielberg. When he was 8 years old.


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