Friday, February 09, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox

Number three in producer J.J. Abrams’ ersatz series of CLOVERFIELD movies is more notable as a marketing gimmick than as a film. Even cast members were surprised the day of Super Bowl LII, when a trailer aired with an announcement that Netflix would premiere THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX immediately following the game.. Like the superior 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, PARADOX was an existing script that was jerry-rigged into a CLOVERFIELD movie during production, but with a less impressive result. Paramount somehow convinced Netflix to shell out $50 million for a film by director Julius Onah (THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE) the studio knew was a dud it would have taken a bath on.

Mostly set in outer space aboard a space station, the film centers around an international seven-astronaut crew. Nearly two years into their mission to develop a particle accelerator to supply energy for a dying Earth, something finally happens, all of it bad. They lose Earth and gain a stowaway (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. heavy Elizabeth Debicki), a woman trapped behind a bulkhead and fused with the station’s internal circuitry. She claims to be one of the crew, though nobody has ever seen her before.

Other weird stuff happens. The Russian crew member (THE MARTIAN’s Aksel Hennie) burps up a gallon of worms in a scene stolen from ALIEN. Irish Chris O’Dowd (BRIDESMAIDS) loses an arm, which crawls around on its own and writes a message to cut open the dead Russian. The screenplay by Oren Uziel (22 JUMP STREET) contains a lot of gobbledygook, but it seems as though the station has initiated some sort of jump through parallel universes. While the limp ALIEN retread plays out in space, “our” Earth is ripping off THE MIST, as a doctor and a child dodge giant monsters seen as silhouettes against the fog and smoke of a world under attack.

Aside from O’Dowd as comic relief (he’s the movie’s Dick Wesson character), all of this craziness is played absolutely straight, which is why it’s so boring. Uziel and Onah try to build sympathy for the character played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (MISS SLOANE) with the revelation that her children, who died in a fire back home, are still alive in a different universe. It’s an intriguing idea, and Mbatha-Raw plays it very well, but Abrams’ zeal to turn the story into a CLOVERFIELD movie puts it on the back burner in favor of generic gotta-get-back-home theatrics mixed with crazed-gunman-killing-everyone-aboard nonsense.

Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo (SELMA) as the crew’s lone Americans take acting honors with Zhang Ziyi (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON), John Ortiz (CARLITO’S WAY), and Daniel Bruhl (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) rounding out the spacebound cast. A good-looking picture in terms of set design (lot of pretty colored lights), THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX also benefits from a strong musical score by Bear McCreary (THE BOY) that occasionally builds suspense where none exists in the script.

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