CLOVERFIELD (Matt Reeves). 84 minutes. Rating: NNN
CLOVERFIELD could easily if pejoratively be described as Godzilla Meets The Blair Witch Project. It's a handycam-shot monster movie about a handful of 20-something New York ninnies trying to escape a 30-storey Stygian nightmare that's playing whack-a-mole with Manhattan's skyscrapers. Just as Godzilla and his atomic offspring were a reaction to the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Cloverfield is an unmistakable metaphor for the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The destruction, especially the initial one in which Lady Liberty's decapitated head gets hurled into the street like a bowling ball, plays out like a bad 9/11 acid flashback as people run screaming from collapsing buildings in a cloud of ash and debris. But the film never delves any deeper into such borrowed imagery, which lessens the overall impact, especially when people start dying.
The characters - one of whom, in a nice ironic touch, is moving to Japan, where monsters run amok as often as Britney Spears does here - are as banal and painfully self-aware as the film's title, with one notable exception, the smartass who's supposed to be shooting the film, Hudson (who resembles in name and attitude Bill Paxton's space marine in Aliens). Their only goal is to rescue a lost love and escape the city before the army napalms everything.
The tension is credibly built up and maintained, particularly during a subway tunnel sequence, although the little spider creatures that flake off the big monster like old scabs seem easily defeated with a Coke bottle or the sharp end of a Manolo Blahnik.
It doesn't quite live up to the hype created by the film's very clever viral marketing campaign. Blair Witch used the shaky handycam approach out of financial necessity, while producer JJ Abrams (Lost) and director Matt Reeves had no such restraints - the CGI is first-rate - so the concept comes across as merely one big gimmick. But an entertaining gimmick, nonetheless.