Jordan Peele's UFO Western is visually strong but deeply flawed.
Review by John Larkin
I had been looking forward to Jordan Peele's latest mostly because of the promise of it delving into Sci-Fi territory and a focus on UFO's. NOPE as a title, holds a double meaning; the acronym N.O.P.E. standing for NOT OF PLANET EARTH and also a reference to the recurring line delivered pointedly by multiple characters as they face a continuing onslaught of strange phenomena.
The film opens on an ambiguous and disturbing shot of a chimpanzee covered in blood, seemingly the perpetrator of a brutal attack on the set of a TV show. It's a shocking and disturbing setup and an ambiguous promise for something sinister ahead. The film makes its first cut to black, the beginning of a recurring trend throughout the entire film of Peele cutting to black just when things are getting good. It works the first time, but when you're an hour and a half deep and cutting mid action sequence, it becomes clear it's an escape for a filmmaker who doesn't know where to go. The film struggles to takeoff, and in actuality it never felt like it really did, going from setup to intense third act only separated by a subplot that never resolves itself and white on black title cards named after the horses on the ranch.
Perhaps Peele's subtext is over my head, but as pure summer blockbuster it's a jarring and eyebrow raising event laced with a steady stream of story logic issues. Would Saturday Night Live really make a parody of a brutal massacre? Without explaining further (and spoiling) the answer to me is clearly, NEVER.
Visually the film is beautiful, not surprisingly as he teamed with the legendary Dutch, Nolan-lensing cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Together they paint some beautiful and indelible images, but the substance just isn't there, making for empty and frustrating viewing.
Ultimately Peele is more focused on bringing visual conceptual ideas to life, without any concern for their logic and significance into the overall plot and character arcs. I never felt a strong payoff for the setup and there were too many unfulfilled story threads and logic defying behavior to make for a satisfying movie going experience. When the film ended I was left more baffled and confused than anything, trying to process the plethora of problems and tonal shifts the film presented in the 135 minute running time.
As a lifelong STAR WARS fan still recovering from the disastrous misfire of the OBI-WAN KENOBI show, a story that should have been foolproof but lost itself completely to logic defying writing, it makes me fear we are in the midst of a new "flawed screenwriting epidemic."
NOPE's title may hold a third meaning; how to respond to one asking the question: Did you like this movie?