Movies: Skyline **
(15A, GENERAL RELEASE)
Skyline -- the first of two alien invasions we will be subjected to in the coming weeks -- is the work of special effects experts Greg and Colin Strause. In the golden age of double features it would have been considered a B-movie, and in ways Skyline does hark back to the heady days of 50s schlock science-fiction. That, however, turns out to be a very mixed blessing.
A race of bellicose extraterrestrials have attacked the earth, targeting the major centres of human civilisation -- and Los Angeles. In a thoroughly tedious preamble, we meet Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson), a young couple who have flown to LA to stay with Jarrod's best friend Terry (Donald Faison, of Scrubs fame).
Elaine finds out she's pregnant, Jarrod reacts badly to this news, and Terry is revealed to have two ladies on the go at once. This wodge of superfluous information is intended to make us care when the guano hits the fan: all it does is give us a very good idea of who's going to get it in the neck first.
The aliens first reveal their presence when blindingly bright shafts of light appear here and there on the city skyline. Those who look at the light become mesmerised and stumble towards it, a big mistake as it turns out. Because these lights emanate from vast alien craft that begin hoovering people up like there's no tomorrow.
It's our brains they're after, and these hideously ugly creatures seem to draw sustenance from them, though they must be wondering why the more Los Angeles grey matter they eat the dimmer they seem to get. In any case, all of this leaves Jarrod, Elaine, Terry and co in a right old pickle, stranded in a luxury penthouse as a bug-eyed army masses outside.
After a fractious summit, the group decide to make a break for it by driving their cars at high speed out of the basement parking lot. But when Terry and his fancy woman take off in the same car, you know the plan is doomed to failure. The survivors retreat in some confusion to the penthouse, where they can only hope desperately for an unlikely rescue.
When the US Air Force turns up their spirits rise, and they have front-row seats for a spectacular aerial battle. But this is California, and, even with the end of the world approaching, one of them gives out to another one for smoking.
Once its elaborate preamble is concluded, Skyline descends into a car crash of flashy special effects and fight scenes. But while the brothers Strause devote lots of energy to explosions and giant spacecraft, not much time or thought seems to have been devoted to the aliens themselves.
In the best science-fiction films (Alien, District 9) elaborate life cycles are invented to make the extraterrestrials more believable. None of that tiresome detail here: apart from the fact that they come in a variety of fun sizes, have up to six pairs of eyes and enjoy nothing more than kicking back and chowing down on some man brain, we discover precisely nothing about these quarrelsome creatures or exactly what their problem is.
Add to that a script that's a daisy chain of the weariest clichés and you have a B-picture in the worst possible sense. Skyline also gets the actors it deserves, and Mr Balfour in particular reaches the outer edge of his thespian abilities early and often. He has an emotional range of just two expressions, anguished and lovelorn -- both are interchangeable, neither especially convincing.
Skyline doesn't even know where to end, and stumbles through three perfect good conclusions before stopping abruptly at a moment of crisis. This, we hope, is not a bid for a sequel.