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Skyline: Film Review

11:30 AM PST 11/11/2010 by Megan Lehmann

The Bottom Line

A laughably bad sci-fi mash-up with some above-average special effects.

SYDNEY — Belligerent aliens lay waste to downtown Los Angeles in visually spectacular fashion but there’s no sign of intelligent life in this high-concept, low-budget sci-fi calamity.

Beyond the dazzling “first contact” sequences seen in the trailers, Skyline is a spasmodic and incoherent shambles hampered by an astoundingly stupid screenplay. Burdened also by unspeakably bad Syfy channel dialogue and dreadful acting, it culminates in a risible finish that, incredibly, seems to be setting up a sequel.

Sci-fi fans transfixed by the brilliant blue light from the invading spaceships in those tantalizing trailers should swarm multiplexes on opening but business will drop off steeply once it becomes clear that Skyline is neither a clever District 9 twin nor even a cut-rate War of the Worlds/Independence Day mash-up.

It’s a wannabe epic, but make no mistake: this is strictly B-movie fare, punched up by some occasionally inspired imagery.

The brothers Strause, Colin and Greg, special effects artists who worked on Avatar, Iron Man 2, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 300 as well as helming Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, financed their film independently. They clearly exhausted most of their modest budget, and all of their creativity, on a handful of cool set pieces created by their own SFX house, Hydraulx.

Outside the blockbuster-scale spectacle of hulking, tentacled alien ships shooting out pulses of light to mesmerize their human prey before hoovering them up in squirming clouds, this is a joyless slog through indecipherable action and even murkier cinematography.

The film maintains a consistency of abysmal acting and direction from the moment we meet Jarrod (Six Feet Under’s Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson), traveling to L.A. to celebrate the birthday of Jarrod’s Porsche-driving, margarita-swilling pal Terry (Donald Faison of Scrubs).

Terry’s penthouse party pad proves an excellent perch from which to watch an alien invasion. Just before dawn, leftover partygoers are woken by an eerie blue glow streaming in through the blinds. One of them makes the mistake of looking into the light and is sucked up into the belly of a giant hovering spacecraft.

So begins the end of the world – and an awful lot of yelling and running around in increasingly illogical circles by a small band of underwritten, uniformly disagreeable characters.

Those pesky budget restrictions mean the action is limited to a single high rise.

So, as the invaders scour the city outside looking for stragglers not beamed up in the initial abduction, a handful of survivors runs up, down, even sideways a couple of times, looking for escape.

But they have nowhere to go – and neither does the movie.

For all its pointless frenzy the film remains strangely inert, as cynically dismissive of plot propulsion and character development as a porn film. The “money shots” starring the various alien creatures designed by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. are too few and far between.

In a cockeyed nod to the maternal desire that fueled Ellen Ripley in Aliens, screenwriters Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell toss in some nonsense about an unwanted pregnancy which only serves to make a bargain-basement storyline even more baffling.

Here’s a tip: Don’t waste your time trying to work out what’s going on. It’s clear by the end that the filmmakers had no idea either.