Lost creator J.J. Abrams' much-hyped monster movie is little more than GODZILLA in BLAIR WITCH drag, an efficient but shallow fright show.
Young executive Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving New York for a job in Japan (of all places!), so his friends orchestrate a surprise going-away party at an artfully artless lower Manhattan loft. Hud (T.J. Miller), the lone chubby goofball in Rob's otherwise stylish and genetically blessed circle, is handed a mini-camcorder and charged with gathering video testimonials (the better to keep him from spoiling the party footage with his unlovely form), a task he undertakes with considerable trepidation and no skill. There's drinking and mingling and an ugly little scene when Rob's ex-girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman), arrives with her new guy, a bit of psychodrama that recedes into insignificance when the building starts to shake. It's an earthquake, according to news reports. Then off in the distance, something explodes in a ball of fire, and the lights go off. The uneasy partygoers scramble downstairs just in time to see the Statue of Liberty's head land in the middle of the street, and to catch a glimpse of a giant monster stomping Manhattan. Soldiers start herding survivors over the Brooklyn Bridge at gunpoint, but after a panicked phone call from Beth, all Rob can think about is rescuing her. So at the first opportunity, he and a handful of loyal pals — his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), take-charge gal pal Lily (Jessica Lucas), morose Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) and, of course, Hud, with camera still in hand — start to make their slow, painful way towards Beth's high-rise Midtown apartment.
Written and directed by longtime Abrams collaborators Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves from an idea Abrams conceived while contemplating Godzilla toys, the film trades in on post-9/11 anxieties with considerable success. What it doesn't do is much of anything else. Despite the lengthy party sequence that introduces the cast, these people are less characters than easy-on-the-eyes conceits: Young, hip, essentially interchangeable and willfully stupid. What's worse, though, is that the film is all surface: Seeing GODZILLA lay waste to lower Manhattan in 1998 was an it-could-never-happen kick, while seeing CLOVERFIELD's pissed-off beast do the same isn't — the psychic fallout from seeing the twin towers fall is too potent an image to stir up for an empty-headed creature feature. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh