Review: ‘Nope’ homages leave reviewer thinking of better movies

Steven Yeun in Nope (Universal Pictures)

Jordan Peele’s latest work “Nope” features an excellent cast and is a splendidly shot film.

It’s just a shame the story loses all its momentum after a second-act reveal that harkens back to the ironic 1950s sci-fi TV anthologies “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.”

I appreciated the homage, but unfortunately the reveal and climax proved anticlimactic and perhaps even a little bit stale.

Fans of Steven Spielberg’s early work particularly “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will see their imprint on Peele’s movie. Playing with such familiar material and aping a favorite director’s style in such a meta way can be fun, but it is also a high-stakes gambit for a director.

In my estimation, it did not quite pay off for Peele.

If you’re going to echo such celebrated films, you better make sure the story you’re telling is on par, or you leave the knowing members of your audience reminiscing about the greatness of those films instead of paying attention to your movie.

I did have a good time searching for such Easter eggs in my viewing, but once I saw where the movie was going, the final act was tedious rather than exciting. I’d much rather be engrossed by a film’s story, characters, and by the director’s choices in telling their tale than for a director to try to dazzle me with his references to better movies from the past.

It’s a bit of a shame, too, as the film gets off to a splendid start with a creepy, tragic and yet funny accidental death of the two main characters’ — OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em’s (Keke Palmer) father Otis (Keith David) at their struggling horse-training facility, outside of Los Angeles, due to an urban legend-type incident.

When Keke returns to the ranch to help OJ get the place in order, odd things begin to happen, including a large ever-stationary, cumulus cloud lodged on the horizon and intermittent power outages. She and OJ begin to suspect an alien predator might be connected to their father’s death as well as many other strange occurrences around the ranch.

Like all good Americans, they hope to make a buck or many of them off their discovery and have cameras installed around the ranch in hopes of capturing footage of the aliens for their “Oprah shot.”

Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in Nope (Universal Pictures)

Electronics technician and UFO true-believer Angel (Brandon Torres) becomes involved when they need help installing the cameras, and eventually a cinematographer named Antler Holst (Micheal Wincott), whom they met while suppling horses for a shoot in Hollywood, joins the group to make sure they are able to capture footage of the aliens even when the power outages occur.

There is a parallel story about former child TV star, played by Steven Yeun, that runs a wild-west show of sorts at a nearby ranch that is basically chum in the water for the aliens in the film that’s interesting in it own right. The story of Yeun’s character could be fodder for another movie if Peele chooses.

The film’s best scene features Kaluuya and Palmer discussing what happens when you run across a “bad miracle.” The scene is at once touching and quite chilling.

There is a twist with the alien that I won’t spoil, but as mentioned before, the movie becomes a lot less appealing once I learned exactly what was going on. The reveal of the spoiler truly spoiled the fun for me. However, I’m sure others will love this development, and only be drawn deeper into the movie’s web.

While the performances by Palmer, who is infectious, and Kaluuya, who is sturdy, stoic, and resolute, are top-notch, the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is the star of the film. It’s gorgeous and worth the price of admission alone.

His night shots in this film are exemplary, and he makes the California big-sky vistas tower across the screen in all their splendor and glory. The film’s composition is as deft and artful as any film I’ve seen this year, and that is certainly to Peele’s and his cinematographer’s credit. It is a movie that would benefit from being viewed on an IMAX screen.

Michael Abels’ music also enhances the film’s big moments phenomenally, making the quieter parts even more stark.

No doubt Peele hid other Easter eggs and fine details within his film that might dawn on me with a second viewing, but after the big reveal, the film felt so anticlimactic that I doubt I’ll bother watching the film again anytime soon.

The movie has all the bells and whistles, but if Peele could have developed a more original climax rather than just borrowing one from a classic like “Jaws,” it might have left a better impression with me.

(R) 2 hr. 11 min.
Grade: C

New in Local Theaters

Nope (R) 2 hr. 11 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (PG) 1 hr. 30 min. (trailer)
Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – E.T. The Extraterrestrial

Henry Thomas and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Universal Pictures)

The 1982 blockbuster that introduced Reese’s Pieces and actress Drew Barrymore to our collective consciousness as well as dethroned “Star Wars” as the top-grossing picture of the time tells the story of preteen Elliot (Henry Thomas), who finds an alien hiding in his backyard shed.

Elliot, of course, takes in the little bug-eyed creature with an elongated neck and glowing digit unbeknownst to his mother (Dee Wallace), and hijinks and adventure ensue.

The film’s magic remains potent 40 years later with all the credit going to the team of Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison. They developed the story together and then breathed life into the classic as director and screenwriter. Nominated for nine Oscars, “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” took home four for Best Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Special Effects.

The movie came out when I was in junior high, and initially I wasn’t that interested in seeing it, writing it off as a “kiddie movie,” but when a buddy of mine told me it was better than “Star Wars,” that’s when I became jealous he saw it before me, and I was sold on giving it a try.

I honestly don’t see the point in comparing the two movies today because they are so different, but there is an emotional resonance to “E.T. The Extraterrestrial,” that just isn’t present in the original “Star Wars” or any of its sequels.

That emotional component is still at work today from a recent rewatch of the classic which features a boy dealing with abandonment issues stemming from his parents’ divorce. The friendship with the little alien, who is missing his family as well, is touching, exhilarating, heart-wrenching, and crowd-pleasing.

I don’t often think of “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” as one of my favorite films, but it is a fine, family-friendly movie that’s sure to please anyone who gives it a chance.