Just because you own an effects house, that doesn’t mean you can direct a movie. The Strause brothers scored a production coup with Skyline by keeping it lean and efficient, but they never considered whether their project justified such efficiency. Simply put, it fails on numerous profound and basic levels, turning what could have been a nifty bit of genre fun into the cinematic equivalent of a root canal.
The problems start with the central premise, a clever concept that the filmmakers never bother to develop. The aliens have arrived and plan on claiming our world for their own. They do so by shining a weird light down from the heavens. Anyone who sees it is irresistibly drawn to it, then sucked up into the giant mother ships like cat hair into a Hoover vacuum cleaner. It provides a nice visual punch, which the ads have made copious use of. In fact, Skyline exists as a textbook example of revealing the best bits in the commercials to disguise the fact that the remainder stinks like three-day-old horse flop.
We witness the sci-fi apocalypse from a Marina Del Rey penthouse, populated by Bright Young Things flush with money and power. Terry (Donald Faison) is throwing a birthday party, and invites his best friend Jarrod (Eric Balfour) across the country to participate. The first fifteen minutes consists of us getting to know them, their girlfriends, and their various hangers on… all of whom are giant douche bags. Presumably, the introduction allows us to bond with them, but they spend most of their time whining about various problems and snapping at each other in the way that only Hollywood elites would equate as normal human relationships.
When the aliens arrive, the group basically cowers in the apartment and tries to think of ways to escape, while the giant ships scoop up the Los Angeles population and the military rallies to launch a counterattack. The basic images hold some appeal, but again, if you’ve seen the billboard, you needn’t bother ponying up a ten-spot. The brothers rip off the best moments from Independence Day wholesale, rendered here in ugly, smeary cinematography and devoid of either fear or wonder. Indeed, you can easily spot how many of its betters Skyline attempts to emulate. ID4 ain’t exactly Citizen Kane, but its goofy popcorn thrills look awfully tempting in comparison to the depressing regurgitation here. (It features better effects too… and considering that it’s fifteen years old, that says something.) Spielberg also makes a favorite crutch, as the aliens’ blue light shines through blind slats in a manner eerie similar to Close Encounters (only, you know, without the grace or elegance).
The brothers coalesce the film around various attempts to resist the invaders, but here too, they mangle the results beyond recognition. Having shrugged off heavy artillery, the aliens seem strangely vulnerable to Balfour’s half-assed haymakers, while an obvious conclusion runs five minutes too long, morphing into one of the single goofiest movie endings of the year. It manages to become both ludicrous and unpleasant at the same time, leaving you unsure if you should laugh into your popcorn or grab the theater manager by his coat lapels and demand your money back.
We probably shouldn’t have expected anything better from the creators of the last AVP movie, and unlike that effort, Skyline actually lets us see what’s going on. But that still doesn’t mean that there’s anything worth seeing, and without more of a focus on storytelling fundamentals, this effort can’t rise above their last. It needs something new, something unique, or at least something vaguely compelling to hold our interest, none of which the brothers seem capable of producing. Skyline thus establishes itself as one of the worst movies of 2010: an appalling distinction in a year so bereft of quality filmmaking. Keep reaching for that rainbow, fellas. I’m sure you’ll figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do sooner or later.