Cloverfield (2008)

The copy-and-paste feature of the personal computer is brilliantly useful and, unlike so many things about personal computers, an actual timesaver. It must have saved Drew Goddard, the screenwriter of Cloverfield, a whole hell of a lot of tedious typing, since the screenplay of said movie amounts to about 75 pages of people screaming "Oh my God!" over and over and over and over (movie critics can use copy-and-paste too). Goddard would have had to type those words thousands of times had he been using an actual typewriter, and he might have realized it wasn't worth the effort. Just imagine Orson Welles typing "Oh My God" 10,000 times in Citizen Kane. There would be no "Rosebud," and we would be all the poorer for it. We can perhaps count ourselves lucky that Welles didn't have a PC, and unlucky that so many screenwriters now do.

Cloverfield is a faux home movie about the destruction of New York by scary monster. You know how the perfect YouTube video is about three minutes long? Anything longer than that and the mind begins to wander from the cute frolicking kittens and the humiliating Japanese game shows, and even Jersey grrrl Chunky Pam starts to lose her lustre. Cloverfield takes that YouTube post-reality, post-verite, post-Blair Witch penchant for self-documentation/aggrandizement and turns it into a (barely) feature length monster movie in which the video camera-wielding twenty-somethings are so dull, featureless, and stupid that you'll be relieved to see that a monster is annihilating Manhattan with great efficiency, and will get to them forthwith.

Not that you'll see all that much of that monster. Uber-producer J.J. Abrams (Lost) likes to keep his scary beasts obscure. When it does finally show itself, the Thing That Ate New York is a kind of Geigeresque reptilian critter, a glossy, high-tech, depsychologized Godzilla without the big dino's rubber soul. But back up about an hour and it turns out that the thing that really kills in Cloverfield is boredom, and specifically, a lifeless going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is departing for a job in Japan. The party is hosted by Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's significant other Lily (Jessica Lucas). They are all mildly attractive in a more or less indistinguishable way. The lackwit behind the video camera is Rob's pal Hud (T.J. Miller), who is at first a reluctant videographer, but later embraces the role with such enthusiasm that he manages to keep on shooting (at eye level, no less) even while frantically running from the monster, while traversing the rooftops of crumbling skyscrapers, while... you get the picture. If only he could have stopped screaming "Oh my God!" while shooting his end of the world video for posterity, and had the presence of mind to say something intelligent by way of narration. It must be said, however, that Hud's screaming is no less interesting than anything anyone else has to say in Cloverfield.

The monster is indiscriminate in killing the no-name cast, which is a small mercy of Cloverfield. The characters are both vapid and obtuse, which is, as always, a winning combination in motion picture entertainment. While the city crumbles around them in a massive cloud of dust tackily reminiscent of 9/11, Rob and his pals decide to buck the trend, and common sense, and head uptown to rescue Rob's ex-girlfriend, who is, according to her cell phone message, grievously wounded and trapped in her high-rise apartment. Why Rob's friends and a random hanger-on from the party decide to follow their brainless leader on his quest for something like redemption and/or true love is anybody's guess, but clearly these young adults don't have the sense to know when it's time to get the hell out of Dodge. Thanks to Hud's mad documentary skilz, the rest of us get to tag along too. "People will want to see what happened," Hud says. Well, actually, maybe not.

  Aside from the vaguely realized YouTube-gen, everybody's-a-celebrity-and/or-papparazzi idea -- the movie's only laugh comes when Lady Liberty's head rolls down the street and everybody whips out a cell phone camera to capture the moment -- Cloverfield is basically a little exercise in coupling high-tech special effects with faux low-tech camera technique. Director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain keep the camera moving and jiggling constantly, which is necessary to maintain the film's home movie conceit, but also rather tiresome. Cloverfield clocks in at a mere 84 minutes, which would ordinarily be quite economical, except that there's only about 20 minutes worth of plot here, and virtually no dialogue (discounting the repetitive screaming). By YouTube standards, it's about 81 minutes too long.