Do you hear that? Those gargantuan footfalls? That hideous belching roar? That grotesquely insidious cackle? That repulsive stench so permeating, so loathsomely pungent that you can actually hear the stank of it? Run, don't walk from...Harry Knowles!?
Did you think I was talking about a monster? Well, I suppose I am - just not the particular monster one might expect to hear about at the beginning of a review of J.J. Abrams new monster mania piece of pop-trash formica. We'll get to that Manhattan-flattening, city-devouring mega monster in a bit, but first, a much more unscrupulous - and much more dangerous - beastie. Harry Knowles, the Larry Flynt of internet movie reviewing, and the red-haired soul-sucking boot-licking studio-bitch quote-whore that he is (and barring any sort of nuke-powered air strike akin to the one near the end of this movie, always will be) was one of the first (I dare not use the term critic, for then it would lose all meaning for the rest of us who rightfully wear that moniker) to hand out his assessment of the movie in question - and by assessment I mean handy-dandy blurb-friendly love song to J.J. Abrams and his army of cinematic sycophants.
Laden with about as much saliva-choked vim and vigor one might expect from a pillow-biting prone newbie on his first night in cell block F with his new "roomie" Bubba, Knowles, in all his monosyllabic one-note fanboy vernacular ain't-it-coolness, proceeds to sing the most ridiculous of praises, hosannas and hallelujahs over Abrams' Godzilla-meets-9/11 box office bugger-to-be, aligning his "review" in such a manner as to leave easy cut-n-paste jobs for the studio poster and ad men he so blatantly works for. My personal favourite is, and I quote: "Like Saving Private Ryan, but instead of Nazis it’s a giant monster". I am not even sure what to say after that! He has managed to glom onto one of the most over-ripe, and overused cliche's in historical allusiondom and at the very same moment managed to insult the memory of millions who died at the hands of those aforementioned Nazis. Bravo Mr. Knowles, brav-fucking-o.
Sure, I realize Knowles callous insipidity and lack of any cinematic knowledge or recognition of any film history whatsoever is an easy, and oft-aimed at target and that I am far from the first to say it out loud, and most assuredly not the last, and anyone who reads his website is of the same mental stuntedness as the fat man himself anyway and one should probably just leave the lion in his den of inadequacies and move on, but sometimes that orange-maned plague-of-criticism dung-heap studio-scab that calls himself Harry Knowles, cannot be ignored and so one must attack it with all one's got, no matter - as in the movie - how futile one's chances may be. Of course it could also be that I really have nothing at all to say about the movie itself. In fact, that is it. Far from great and far from terrible, not good, but not bad either, TV auteur J.J. Abrams' beat down of Manhattan via a cross between Godzilla, that thing from The Host and a oiled-up hairless, skinless Harry Knowles (I just had to get one more jab in) is painstakingly average in every way imaginable.
Made as a stunt, über-producer Abrams', through his vessel-for-hire Matt Reeves, whose one lone directorial credit was the abysmally mediocre The Pallbearer, gives us a third-hand look at the destruction of Manhattan by some sort of behemothic amphibimonster that may or may not be from outer space, through the omnipresent handheld camera of one of the movie's many non-descript characters-cum-monster fodder. Lost somewhere in between Independence Day and The Blair Witch Project. It's a gimmick that has already been used more progressively in Brian De Palma's Redacted and the (as yet unseen by this critic) latest flesh-eating bon mot from George Romero, Diary of the Dead, but it is still a gimmick that nearly works here, especially amidst the obviously post-9/11-esque sturm und drang that Abrams is so callously playing upon. I guess after six-and-a-half years we can finally joke and laugh and use September 11th for our latest Hollywood entertainments. God bless America!
All YouTube filmmaking tricks and tropes aside though, Abrams secret little movie, hyped right into the stratosphere upon the blogosphere, finally makes its big bang on the big screen and we must ask ourselves - this is all we get? 84 minutes of a bunch of interchangeable white-bread nitwits running around lower Manhattan trying not to get eaten by the big scary monster that may be worse than the Nazis even!? Trying to be so hip it hurts - so hip that J.J. and his posse want to scream it from the tops of the tallest skyscrapers in New York if they hadn't already levelled them all in their F/X fuck fest - what we get instead is the most banal of anti-archetypes fending for their lives throughout the streets and tunnels of this drudgingly middle-of-the-road anti-spectacle.
Manohla Dargis of the NY Times talked of the characters being so boring she was rooting for the monster and Nathan Lee of the Village Voice exclaimed "death to the shallow, unlikable heroes!". Hell, we never even get that great a look at the monster itself until the very end, which under different circumstances may make for a much more intense form of terror, but here is just waylaid in place of a reality-TV-like take on the modern monster movie. And again, just like reality-TV and all those zombiefied Stepford husbands and wives that keep the shows coming back year after year, season after season, we are left with the most average of motion pictures. Not good enough to be thought a breakthrough and not bad enough to be bellowed at in any fun Mystery Science Theatre 3000 kind of way. Merely mediocre.
Then again, we could always discuss the inconsistencies of the movie. Like why doesn't Hud put down the damn camera when the girl he has lusted after for so long is being attacked by some sort of mutant alien spider who has apparently mistaken her for Sigourney Weaver or why after semi-devouring one character, the monster suddenly vanishes so as to give the other characters time to swoop in and mourn their friend or how our intrepid heroes manage to travel the number 6 train tunnel from Spring Street to 59th Street in such a speedy fashion (if at all) or why every time the camera is dropped it conveniently falls facing the action and never once breaks or runs out of battery power or tape or how the hell the camera survives the destruction of Manhattan in order to be "shown" as a testimonial of what went down on the fateful day in New York in the first place.
We could do all that but then horror movies have always been chock full of such delectable little nuggets of character stupidities. If my house began bleeding and told me to get out, guess what? I am down at the post office filling out a change of address card! Or if there is a noise in the darkened attic and three people have already been murdered, guess who is NOT going in that attic!! Anyway, I digress. For all its inherited stupidities, Abrams attack-on-New York megaplexer is just another piece of slickly-tried pulp nowhere near the heights of its precursor big daddies Godzilla and King Kong yet also nowhere near the pits of someone like M. Night Shyamalan and his ridiculous dawdles of blasé bullshit. Happenstancely pedestrian in every way.
Truth be told though, I was actually kind of hoping for this to be a bad movie - a really bad movie. A really really really bad movie. Then I could toss all my acerbic critical wit at the problem and call it a day, feeling every bit the bad boy, as if I were the critical Jesse James or James Dean. But alas, the movie was not bad after all (just run-of-the-mill trying to be thought of as edgy) and all my acid-tongued insults are laid to waste just as Manhattan was in Abrams' "Fuck You" mega monster mediocrity known as Cloverfield. But not to worry for I still have Harry Knowles to lob critical bombs at - and with a target like that how could I miss. [01/19/08]