Friday, March 1, 2013

The Cinema File #125: "U.F.O." Review

As a lifelong fan of science fiction, I'd say I have a pretty good idea of what makes an alien invasion movie fun to watch. I know all the cliches and tropes and can easily see when they are being applied appropriately. That being said, I don't know what to say about U.F.O., the latest sci-fi mess directed by Dominic Burns. It's like every alien invasion movie rolled into one, as made by someone who seems to hate the genre, or at the very least has no understanding of it. Lacking one really good idea, or lacking any inspired take on the concept, instead this film chooses to take every idea that has come before and just smash them together as haphazardly as possible.

We get body snatchers infiltrating us in human form and the resulting paranoia, the Independence Day moment with giant ships hovering in the sky, and man's inhumanity to man as a civilization gripped with fear begins to break down. In essence, we get everything except actual aliens, which we never see outside of their human disguises. And none of it, and I mean absolutely none of it is done well. It feels like the filmmakers were just ticking off a checklist or filling in the movie like a paint by numbers set. Towards the end, as our characters are gathered together and hashing out the plot, piecing the various threads into something cohesive, I just lost it. Some guy happens to have technology from Area 51 and knows about the aliens' plan somehow, and it in some way relates to the crazy religious guy who predicted the time of the invasion, and the little girl randomly knows how to see through the aliens' disguises. The subtitle of this movie might as well have been Because Who Cares?

U.F.O. follows a group of British twenty somethings who wake up from a wild night of partying to find that the electricity is off all over town, and the phones don't work, but for some reason their cars still start up, even though the problem is implied to be something akin to an electromagnetic pulse. The next day, and yes I swear to God the movie takes a whole fucking day to get to it, a massive U.F.O. descends upon the town and just sort of hovers there. Apparently this alone is enough to encourage every cliched example of social anarchy almost immediately, and our goofball heroes must struggle to survive a variety of threats that are admittedly mostly unexpected, but only because the film makes no attempt to establish a structure in which anything makes sense long enough to be predictable. The cast does a decent job of making you feel for their plight, with characters that are genuinely sympathetic at times, but any good will garnered from their performances is sapped away by a story that goes nowhere slowly.

Oh yeah, and I guess Jean Claude Van Damme is in it, though he only shows up for like ten minutes in the end to provide exposition in a thick accent so you can't understand half of it. Through much of his cameo, I was almost certain that his scenes were being filmed completely separate from everything else, as until the final action scene, he is conspicuously on his own in many of his shots. His involvement was the only reason I picked this movie up in the first place, as I expect will be the case for many, and the lack of Van Damme vs. Alien carnage through much of the film is a major disappoint. Of course, when I say he only shows up at the end, I'm not counting the incredibly annoying editing choice of splicing in split second flash forwards everywhere for no reason. For the longest time I assumed it was a clue as to the nature of the aliens, that maybe they were mucking about with time or something, but as it turns out, no, its just an attempt to be stylish in the absence of anything substantively entertaining.

The ending would be fine for an episode of the 90's era Outer Limits, but for an actual movie, it just comes off as cheesy. Thankfully they didn't go full on Monsters On Maple Street as I was expecting, but its still too hackneyed to take seriously (as if I could take any of this seriously). I sometimes think its kind of pointless to even release reviews for movies I don't recommend, as I'd think it would be more useful to highlight movies you should see but might miss, rather than advising you to avoid something you may not ever watch anyway. That being said, I was tricked into watching this movie thanks to the presence of Van Damme alone, and I want to make sure that no one else makes this mistake, no matter how obscure this movie may be. Don't bother, its not worth it.
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