’65’ Review: This Is How You Screw Up a Film About Adam Driver Fighting Dinosaurs
The first thing to know about “65,” a new film in which Adam Driver plays a spaceman who fights dinosaurs, is that it is not actually about time travel. Driver’s character, the single-named Mills, does not go through some portal and land back in prehistory. No, he’s actually an alien from an advanced civilization whose ship is downed by an asteroid — can you see where this is going? — leaving him stranded on Earth.
It’s a fun idea with lots of goofy potential that is completely squandered in the execution from filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, best known for coming up with the idea for eventual box office smash “A Quiet Place.” What should be a movie that relishes in its silliness is instead played completely straight. Audience will likely be left wanting to scream at the screen, “C’mon, it’s Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs. This shouldn’t be all that serious!”
Save for one inspired, gut-splattering dinosaur kill, “65” is overburdened with melancholy that seems out of place for something so inherently ridiculous. Beck and Woods attempt to turn their conceit into a lone wolf and cub story that feels all too familiar in this era of “The Last of Us,” when really all we want to see is an Oscar-nominated actor go head to head with a big lizard.
In a prologue set on a nondescript beach, the audience learns that Mills is setting out on a two-year expedition in order to get enough money for treatment for his ailing daughter (Chloe Coleman). After that quick context, the action jumps to Mills’ ship, filled with human cargo asleep in cryo chambers. The peaceful trip is quickly interrupted by surprise asteroids, which forces Mills to crash and strands him on Earth’s swampy terrain.
At first, Mills assumes he is the only survivor and is willing to give up hope, but it turns out he’s not the only one of his kind marooned in this strange land. He soon discovers that one of the pods contains Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), a young girl from a different region, who doesn’t speak his language, instead babbling in an invented tongue. This lack of communication is frustrating for Mills. Quickly, however, he realizes Koa resembles the daughter he left behind, and his protective instincts kick in. To get off Earth, they must trek to a cliff where the part of their vessel with the escape pod broke off.
Making matters more urgent, it turns out the space rock that downed this duo is part of a larger astrological event that will have dire effects. Yeah, that asteroid? It’s headed toward them. So, where are the dinos? Honestly, not around nearly enough, which is maybe helpful for Mills and Koa, but annoying for audiences who bought a ticket hoping to see some roaring, rampaging beasts.
Beck and Woods are sparing with the dinosaur deployment, but the effect is less Spielbergian than it is boring. Still, they do eke out a few exciting action sequences, including a bit where Mills and Koa are forced to run from a T-Rex into a cave with no discernible exit, a sequence that conveys the claustrophobia and tension the rest of the film is missing.
But other encounters range from derivative — the T-Rex appears in the rain in an obvious homage to “Jurassic Park” — to simply unexciting. For a project produced by Sam Raimi, master of gruesome practical effects, the gore is mostly kept to a minimum. It’s all bizarrely tasteful, more intensely focused on the relationship between Mills and Koa, which is also lacking in depth. This is a coupling we’ve seen over and over again: Stern man and quirky kid. It’s getting old.
Starring in “65” is an interesting swerve for Driver, who lately has been opting for prestige projects with big name directors, ranging from Michael Mann to Francis Ford Coppola to his longtime collaborator Noah Baumbach. It’s not that Driver is lacking a sense of humor; his stints on “Saturday Night Live” prove that he’s got a taste for the amusing, as does his wry work with Baumbach. Even his Kylo Ren in the “Star Wars” series has a sense of camp. But here he seems downright uninterested in giving Mills any discernible personality beyond “sad dad” and “gruff hero.” Still, it’s hard to blame him when the material is so lackluster. He may be from another planet, but there is nothing to separate him from any other dude.
You can sort of see what Beck and Woods were going for; “A Quiet Place,” which they co-wrote with John Krasinski, works because of the family at its center. But the premise of that film — “be quiet or the monsters will get you” — values intimacy, while “aliens versus dinosaurs” benefits from broadness. The result is an odd tonal mismatch, an undercooked emotional two-hander with random dinosaurs. The biggest disappointment of “65”? Its betrayal of the B-movie baked into its DNA. An idea this stupid should be more stupidly enjoyable.
Sony will release “65” in theaters on Friday, March 10.
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