“Skyline”, from the brothers Strause, is the second alien invasion movie to come down the pipe this year, following in the footsteps of Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters”. It will be followed in the next few years by “Battleship” from Peter Berg and “Battle: Los Angeles” from Jonathan Liebesman. And that’s not counting the half dozen or so other alien invasion movies already under development for 2012 and beyond. I must admit that I had high expectations for “Skyline”, which may be my fault, because the finished product, while entertaining enough, left me feeling very unfulfilled. Rumor has it the Strauses are already at work on “Skyline 2”, which makes sense given the cliffhanger ending of the movie. Of course, “working” on a sequel and making it happen is not the same thing; mostly, though, the possibility of a “Skyline 2” will depend entirely on the box office returns for “Skyline”.
As “Skyline” opens, aliens have already begun harvesting humans up into their gigantic ships, using glowing blue light to lure victims into a stupor before, well, literally sucking them into the skies. But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The film flashes back to earlier in the day, with couple Jarrod (Eric Balfour, currently lounging around the SyFy Channel’s “Haven”) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving in L.A. to attend the birthday bash of Jarrod’s old buddy Terry (Donald Faison, late of TV’s “Scrubs”). Also attending: Terry’s business pal Ray (Neil Hopkins), high-maintenance girlfriend Candace (Brittany Daniel, “Joe Dirt”), and Terry’s assistant with benefits, Denise (Crystal Reed). Lurking in the background is building manager Oliver (David Zayas, “The Expendables”) in his spiffy yellow vest.
The partygoers eventually wake up early in the morning the next day as the alien attack begins. Ray is the first victim, with Jarrod next if not for the quick thinking of Terry, who manages to wrestle him from the alien light. As huge alien ships descend from the skies to vacuum up the helpless citizenry of L.A., our five survivors struggle to remain calm. When an escape plan to the seas proves too deadly (and resulting in another casualty), the friends head back to Terry’s suite to wait out the invasion. Meanwhile, the military begins to fight back with mixed results. Will our plain Janes and Joes survive their harrowing ordeal? Or better question, maybe “Battle: Los Angeles” had it right when it decided to capture the alien invasion from the POV of a Marine battalion and not, you know, just a bunch of average people hiding out in an apartment suite.
Directed by Colin and Greg Strause (the brothers behind the bloody “Aliens vs. Predator”), “Skyline” looks and feels like a demo reel that some visual effects wizards put together in hopes of landing Hollywood studio work. With an estimated (and modest) $10 million dollar budget to work with (sofa change compared to what “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Battleship” are bringing to the table), the film’s first concern seems to be the effects. Fortunately, VFX also happens to be the specialty of the two sibling directors. (On a side note, the brothers are also VFX supervisors on Jonathan Liebesman’s “Battle: Los Angeles”, a fact that led to some legal issues between the two films.) Unfortunately, as well done and slick as the effects are, “Skyline’s” aliens never really feel real, though of course the fact that we’re seeing the entire invasion through the very limited view of Terry and his party guests doesn’t exactly help to “flesh” out the invaders.
Which leaves us with the characters. These aren’t exactly the best group of people to be trapped with during an alien invasion. The only really worthwhile character in the bunch is Terry, the bling-bling mogul with money to burn. Brittany Daniel has almost nothing to do in the film, but then again, neither does anyone else. The film’s main couple, Jarrod and Elaine’s one big plotline is that Elaine discovers she’s pregnant (don’t worry, this is very early in the film), but otherwise there isn’t any real chemistry between them. And oh yeah, they apparently have major trust issues, apparently. Of course, it doesn’t help that the script by Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell isn’t exactly rocket science. The film’s conflicts border on the childish, and almost always involve a character backing another character, resulting in a third character feeling and looking hurt as a result. What is this, high school?
It never really occurred to me before, but setting the film inside an apartment skyscraper and following a bunch of average people was probably not the best approach to take in a movie about a massive alien invasion. We’re stuck with watching the characters running around trying to survive, while endless bickering takes place among them. The “who cares about these schmucks” meter rises noticeably when Zayas’ Oliver enters the picture. Apparently the insignificant building manager has been harboring a deep desire to be Top Dog, and finally gets his chance when the shit hits the fan. Of course, since Balfour’s Jarrod barely has a spine worth mentioning, it’s pretty easy for Oliver to take charge of things. Hell, I’m surprised he didn’t Alpha Male grunt his way into Candace’s pants, too.
The film does feature a couple of nifty set pieces, including a middle section where the military attempts to nuke the aliens out of the sky. Unfortunately that also reminds you that this film would have been so much better if the characters were soldiers instead of just people trapped in an apartment. Now imagine this same scene, but played out with a main character inside the cockpit of that nuke-carrying airplane, instead of having to watch it unfold from an apartment suite across the city and through a telescope. See the difference?
Colin Strause, Greg Strause (director) / Joshua Cordes, Liam O’Donnell (screenplay)
CAST: Eric Balfour … Jarrod
Scottie Thompson … Elaine
Brittany Daniel … Candice
Crystal Reed … Denise
Neil Hopkins … Ray
David Zayas … Oliver
Donald Faison … Terry