Starring Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, and Lizzy Caplan. Rated 14A.
Imagine if somebody came up to you, grabbed your head, and jiggled it around for 80 minutes. Now imagine they did that while you were trying to watch a movie about a monster attacking New York City. Pretty irritating, eh?
Cloverfield’s herky-jerky camerawork isn’t the only thing preventing it from being an awesome Godzilla for the MySpace generation; its first 20 minutes suffer from a tedious, soap-opera vibe. The story picks up at a surprise going-away bash for upwardly mobile Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is off to Japan but just fell in love with the stunning Beth (Odette Yustman). Many tiresome scenes are involved in introducing Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Vancouver’s Jessica Lucas), bored partier Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and Rob’s goofy best bud, Hud (T. J. Miller), who reluctantly agrees to videotape some goodbye messages then refuses to stop recording, no matter what. (Most of the film’s Blair Witch–style footage comes courtesy of Hud’s shaky viewfinder.)
After Rob and Beth have a scrap and she leaves the soiree in a huff, earthquake-style jolts rattle the partygoers, who pour out into the street. At this point, director Matt Reeves makes a blatant attempt to revive 9/11 dread with images of thick dust clouds billowing down Manhattan streets. But instead of hijackers targeting towers, he’s got a skyscraper-sized reptile that wants to play catch with the Statue of Liberty’s head.
The movie hits its stride when German shepherd–sized versions of those nasty spider-crab things from Alien appear, but it slides into absurdity when Rob and the others decide to rescue Beth, who’s impaled on a piece of rebar near the top of a partially collapsed high-rise. If screenwriter Drew Goddard had toned down the Hollywood heroics and injected a hint of reality into the plot, he might have wound up penning a fright flick worthy of Cloverfield’s impressive hype.