Andy Bockelman: 'Cloverfield' agreeably reptilian

Sci-fi monster flick boring to some, intriguing to others as action remains mostly fresh

— The world has been destroyed by invaders many times on camera, but nevertheless, the action in the frantic sci-fi story "Cloverfield" remains predominantly fresh.

New Yorker Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is preparing for a job-mandated move to Japan when he comes home to find his closest friends surprising him with a bash to send him off in style.

Before anyone can say "bon voyage," the building is rocked by jolting shockwaves and explosions can be glimpsed in the distance.

Once the partygoers get to street level, they find absolute bedlam with the city's residents panicking about the force that is clearly responsible for all the violent activity. The military is working to fight the threat and evacuate the city, but the menace is making headway.

Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), the party's designated cameraman, takes it upon himself to record everything that is happening for posterity. He captures as much as he can with the camcorder as he, Rob, Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason's girlfriend (Jessica Lucas) and her friend (Lizzy Caplan) make their way to safety.

Stahl-David is acceptable as Rob, who becomes a hesitant leader among his friends. Vogel and Lucas are barely given anything important to do as their characters quickly lose any kind of bearing on the story.

Miller, who currently stars on TV's "Carpoolers" as the decidedly weird son Marmaduke, is relegated to a purely audio function as the man behind the camera, although his face does occasionally pop into frame.

Hud's ardor for Caplan's Marlena leads to a number of indulging shots of her purely for his sake, although she is one of the more interesting characters.

Not to ruin anything, but the monster, which inspires the hubbub is quite impressive; the Godzilla for the new millennium has an agreeably reptilian design.

It is the humans who flee from this gargantuan creature that appear rather artificial. There is just a little too much attention devoted to the personal drama of these average twentysomethings when the fate of the planet is in question.

The script is much too heavily plotted, as well. Indeed, the fairly innovative technique of telling the entire tale through the perspective of a simple digital handheld has its benefits, but also has its drawbacks as clumsy Hud stumbles through sets that might appear daunting if exposed by a steady camera, but instead are rather laughable when shown through numerous angles by a roving eye.

The saving grace of the movie is that once the monster is introduced, there is no time wasted whatsoever, and the fast-paced story is what keeps the audience rooted in place.

"Cloverfield" (a title with no definitive meaning) is the kind of film that will enthrall some and bore others. While its pull may not work for all, even the hecklers must admit to being intrigued at one point or another.

Now playing at the West Theater.

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