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Cloverfield: Big buildup, bigger letdown
Lots of dull people, a nearly invisible monster and the trite shaky videocam gimmick. That's Cloverfield.
By Steve Persall, Times Film Critic
Published January 18, 2008
Michael Stahl-David, left, and Odette Yustman star in "Cloverfield." What about the monster? Well, it's camera-shy.
[AP photo | Paramount Pictures]
Cloverfield is the first monster movie that ever made me pull for the monster to pick up the pace and kill everybody.
This irritating spawn of The Blair Witch Project, shot entirely with shakycam stunts and no respect for the audience, is nightmarish for all the wrong reasons. Producer J.J. Abrams of TV's equally annoying Lost is the P.T. Barnum of the Internet age, trading on the gullibility of a YouTube generation believing anything they could shoot themselves is awesome.
There's a sucker drinking Red Bull every second.
"Director" Matt Reeves spends the first quarter of his 80-minute movie (plus end credits) establishing the videocam conceit: Rob (Michael David-Stahl) is surprised by a going-away party because he's heading to Japan to be a vice president of something. His brother Jason (Mike Vogel) quickly proves he can't operate the camera, passing it to Hud (T.J. Miller) to record farewell wishes.
Hud has the hots for Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who doesn't care, ducking his lame-o attempts to converse through the lens. Rob awaits the arrival of Beth (Odette Yustman), with whom he shared a one-night stand. She shows up with a date, and right after Rob dogs her, a series of explosions break up the party and Manhattan.
Any resemblance to the panic and destruction of 9/11 is purely exploitative.
For the next seven hours, Rob and assorted dead meat race through streets, subway tunnels, high-rise staircases and Central Park, with Hud capturing everything on camera except the monster when it's too late. Funny that his battery doesn't expire or the camera isn't smashed in the commotion, or confiscated by military troops, and how it is always properly framed when it doesn't matter.
But what about the monster, you ask. Well, it is ginormous, of course, and camera-shy. Think of The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep with a bad attitude and sweating killer spider-crabs that are actually kind of cool. A wishful doodle on a schoolboy's notebook is probably more impressive.
Abrams and Reeves understand the nature of Cloverfield fanboyz and girlz bored enough to hang out with them: They'll never admit being hoodwinked after buying months of hype and now tickets. Pretending to be thrilled by dull people chased by a practically invisible creature will be their defense mechanism. They may even concoct some cockamamie meaning for this mess. (It's like terrorists, dude!)
"People will see this," Hud gushes at one of many moments when anyone smart would drop the camera and run. "This is important."
Yes, they will, and no, Cloverfield isn't.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel