Nope is a big nope for me.
BQB here with a review of Jordan Peele’s latest.
It’s hard not to root for Jordan Peele. Very few comedians make the transition to serious movie director. His first two films, Get Out and Us used the horror genre to discuss society’s racial problems that all too often leave black people feeling like they’re living in a real life horror film. Us was especially scary to me, so much so that I never wanted to watch it again, not because it was bad because it was that scary and I didn’t want to get scared again.
But while the first two flicks had clear messages (white people controlling and/or replacing the identity of black people in Get Out or how an underground world of our violent, angry doppelgangers who are just like us suffer while people above thrive serves as a lesson about class privilege in Us) the message here is not very clear, unless I am oblivious, which is possible and if so, feel free to explain it to me in the comments.
The plot? Daniel Kaluuya and Emerald Haywood are OJ and Emerald Haywood, the brother/sister team who, after the untimely death of their father Otis Sr (Keith David) are struggling to keep their family business afloat. The Haywards are the descendants of Alistair Haywood, the jockey who appeared in the very first movie ever, a short film showing a jockey ride a horse. Thus, a Haywood was Hollywood’s first actor, stunt man, and animal trainer. The Haywoods have run a ranch in Agua Dulce, California ever since, providing horses to Hollywood productions. Alas, as often happens in family businesses, the loss of their father leaves a big hole to fill, the kids feel like they don’t measure up to the old man’s years of experience. OJ knows how to handle horses but is painfully shy. Emerald has no interest in helping out at the range but is boisterously outgoing, thus the person who communicates to all the Hollywood folk. Ultimately, they need each other.
Their competition is Jupiter’s Claim, a ranch run next door by former child actor Ricky Park (Steve Yeun). OJ and Ricky know that animals are unpredictable, and have seen devastating results that suggest animals really were never intended by nature to be sources of entertainment for man. As a child, Ricky was the only member of a sitcom (about a family that adopted a chimp) cast to avoid being either killed or horribly maimed by a chimpanzee’s on set freakout. OJ’s lack of communication skills (well, maybe rather a lack of ability to communicate authoritatively) lead to a crew member getting kicked in the face by a horse. Sadly, despite seeing what can go wrong when animals are controlled, OJ and Ray stay in the animal training business anyway.
Anyway, when strange doings in the sky transpire above Agua Dulce, OJ and Emerald see dollar signs. The family business has been losing customers and therefore money ever since their father passed. They hope if they can catch photographic evidence of UFO activity, they’ll get a payday, fame and maybe even an interview on Oprah. (When was this movie supposed to take place? Oprah has been off the air a long time.)
Meanwhile, Ray hopes to wow audiences by baiting the flying object into appearing for the viewing pleasure of his ranch guests.
Ultimately, I’m not exactly sure what the film’s message is. There’s an obvious ribbing of man’s desire for fame and fortune, as well as the stupid lengths we go to grab it. Ray clearly lives in the past with an entire room dedicated to his child sitcom star days, even though one would think the horror he experienced on set would have gotten him out of the acting alongside animals game for good. Emerald wants to be an actress herself, going to great lengths to promote herself during set visits while ignoring very real aspects of her family’s established business.
It all culminates in a final half where everyone’s running around trying to film whatever the heck this flying thing is rather than embracing the survival instinct and getting the heck out of there. It’s all about grabbing the footage to get the cash, no one ever thinking maybe they ought to call the government, get the area closed off to save lives, then protect themselves. People doing stupid things in the name of good footage to post online seems like a problem in the social media age.
I’ll share in other online criticism in that the previews made us think we were getting a pretty awesome UFO flick while the movie itself is very long and the first half is mostly dedicated to how shitty the Hollywood animal training business is and how perhaps it shouldn’t even exist because humans are stupid, treat living things like props and attempts to control living things inevitably explode in dangerous ways. All valid points and feel free to make an entire movie about that, but as a viewer, you just sit around, look at your watch, and wonder when the UFO is going to appear.
The last half featuring a showdown between the flying object, the Haywoods and their buddies Angel, an IT tech and documentarian Antlers Holst (Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott) who serve as the cameramen tasked with documenting the phenomenon while the Haywoods draw it out.
Perhaps Holst provides the movie’s message. “This dream you’re chasing, where you end up on the top of the mountain and everyone is cheering for you. It’s the one you never wake up from.”
In other words, we’re all fools and the lengths we go to in order to get noticed, to get rich, are all silly and ill-advised. Maybe the work-a-day stiffs have it right. Earn a living, keep your head down, stand by your family. Everyone else trying to be famous will never find what they’re looking for.
STATUS: Borderline shelf-worthy. I almost ranked it non-shelf worthy but it has fun moments. The movie’s running joke, where OJ sees danger, says “Nope” matter of factly, then hides from it, is funny and perhaps is the best strategy for life. When you sense something is wrong, usually it is, so don’t run toward it in hopes that you’ll achieve fame. OJ is the reluctant hero as he doesn’t really long for fame and fortune and is only participating in the alien photography project to save the business his father and family created and built. Ultimately, I think the film’s extra long run time makes it suffer and Peele needed to decide if he wanted to make a movie about UFOs or about how the Hollywood animal training industry sucks. You might not believe he eventually does tie the two together, but you do have to wait for it.
The stars are good. Kuulaya plays a quiet man so doesn’t get a lot of material, but uses what he gets well. Keke is funny as an attention grabber. Steve Yeun gets a chance to shine and this might be his most interesting role since playing The Walking Dead’s Glenn. Everyone does their part, I just think the movie wasn’t sure what it wanted to be.