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Review: 'Skyline' Is A Bore & Brain-Sucking Dreck

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 12, 2010 at 12:34AM

In the opening moments of "Skyline," the new bargain basement sci-fi flick from the geniuses behind "Alien vs Predator: Requiem," glittery plumes of otherworldly mist drop into stock footage of a placid, sleepy Los Angeles. The goo is a hell of a light show, turning night into day, and puny humans unfortunate enough to gaze upon its bio-luminescent brilliance are immediately sucked into the void, either gobbled up by a myriad of spindly or crunchy creatures, or vacuumed into the mothership like an intergalactic Dyson.
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In the opening moments of "Skyline," the new bargain basement sci-fi flick from the geniuses behind "Alien vs Predator: Requiem," glittery plumes of otherworldly mist drop into stock footage of a placid, sleepy Los Angeles. The goo is a hell of a light show, turning night into day, and puny humans unfortunate enough to gaze upon its bio-luminescent brilliance are immediately sucked into the void, either gobbled up by a myriad of spindly or crunchy creatures, or vacuumed into the mothership like an intergalactic Dyson.

And this is where the gee-whiz spectacle begins and ends.

"Skyline," for all its "let's put on a show" low-budget gumption, doesn't have the storytelling skills or the basic narrative fundamentals to make any of the flashy mayhem (or mundane human drama) compelling in the slightest. Instead, computer-generated doo-dads zip across the screen without much dazzle, employing the workmanlike sizzle of a top-shelf video game. For all its sizzle, it doesn't mean a damn thing.

Most of this has to do with the lumbering human storyline. Eric Balfour plays a childhood friend of Donald Faison's character. Faison has become some kind of a big shot, since we spend eons admiring his shiny sports car and luxurious post-millennial Los Angeles loft. His specialty or skill is never defined, but Balfour, supposedly there for Faison's birthday, is quickly offered a job as a special effects technician (it should be noted that the directors, "The Brothers Strause" as they're credited, make their bread and butter as special effects technicians). The morning after the big birthday bash, the aliens invade and all hell breaks loose. The dangling dramatic beats that never really get resolved or even investigated include Faison's dalliance with a much younger assistant (Crystal Reed) and Balfour's girlfriend (Scottie Thompson) learning she's pregnant. These characters are so flat that they fail to register even as disaster movie archetypes, so when they're snatched out of the sky or smashed by some beast, there's no pause. They might as well be made of the same weightless pixels that the spaceships are; they're certainly given the same emotional weight and depth.

It was reported early on that much of "Skyline" was filmed in the directors' apartment, which read like an exaggeration, but seems to very much be the case. For most of the movie, the unlikable characters are trapped in a pre-fab apartment as they watch Los Angeles get pulverized by outer space villains. Unlike "Signs," "Cloverfield" or Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" remake (which this movie borrows from, shamelessly), "Skyline" lacks a definitive point of view. If we had stuck with our characters, seeing what they see, then there might have been something kinetic and kicky and fun, running from apartment to apartment, trying to puzzle out what's going on. But since the action often cuts away, showing more large-scale destruction, we're zapped out of the manufactured immediacy. We can see that it's all happening not in a downtown Los Angeles besieged by gooey monstrosities, but on some geeky guy's computer screen. Most movies wear their low-budget ingenuity as a badge of honor, although with "Skyline" it feels more like a shameful scarlet letter. The entire time you'll be asking yourself: Is this all they could come up with?

The reason for the alien invasion in "Skyline" is never explicitly explained, although at some point we find out that they really, really like eating human brains (perhaps as a nod to the 1958 gem "Fiend Without a Face," but that's probably giving the filmmakers too much credit). All of the creatures -- the ones that zip around the sky like the squids from the "Matrix" movies and the towering behemoth that stomps around and has a Lovecraftian maw -- have a hankerin' for human gray matter. You can practically hear the Scarecrow singing, "If I only had a brain..." It's a sentiment that tidily summarizes the film itself: if it only had a brain it might not be such a worthless hunk of junk, all flash and noise but no soul. Although it should be said that the last five minutes, in which the special effects take over the entire movie turning it into some kind of bizarro outtake from "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," kind of has to be seen to be believed for its sheer, WTF-worthy absurdity. Beyond that, "Skyline" is a bore. It's all been there, abducted that. [D]

This article is related to: Films, Review, Genre Films, Skyline


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