Imagine a Kmart mash-up of “Transformers” and “Independence Day” and you’re appropriately primed for “Skyline,” an underwhelming and derivative sci-fi thriller that’s only marginally more impressive than a run-of-the-mill SyFy Channel telepic. Co-directed by vet visual effects wizards and Hydraulx f/x company founders Greg and Colin Strause, billing themselves as the Brothers Strause, pic intersperses drearily extended scenes of cringe-worthy dialogue and over-amped acting with sequences showcasing only sporadically spectacular CGI-laden destruction. Hard-sell ad campaign may generate fair-to-good opening weekend numbers, but word of mouth likely will dampen long-range theatrical and homevid prospects.
Positing a worst-case morning-after scenario, scripters Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell get things started by having hearty-partying acquaintances awaken to find the skies of Los Angeles filled with the warships of extraterrestrial invaders.
After the initial assault, pic flashes back to introduce and delineate the central characters, who are in the wrong place — a Marina del Rey luxury penthouse apartment with humongous windows — at the wrong time. Unfortunately, even after the action picks up again, and the characters continue to interact, they’re never more than stereotypes, despite the determined efforts by some cast members to flesh out their parts with capital-A acting.
It’s not entirely the fault of the thesps, who are burdened with dialogue like “They’re not dead! They’re just really, really pissed off!” while trudging through a storyline littered with fuzzy logic and hoary cliches. Cast as an apartment complex factotum who more or less takes charge at the 40-minute point (though not, alas, for very long), David Zayas asserts himself as most valuable player mainly because he’s naturally authoritative enough to sell even the silliest lines.
The extraterrestrial meanies start out by shooting blasts of light that hypnotize humans, making it all the easier to harvest hundreds of thousands of them in a manner one character aptly likens to the “rapture” of biblical prophecy. At first, it seems that all the penthouse inhabitants have to do is keep the blinds closed. But no: The invaders proceed with a mop-up operation that involves assaults by protoplasm-like drones, airborne, multi-tentacled predators and a few giant marauders that resemble humanoid-shaped industrial sludge decked out with Christmas lights.
CGI effects, the pic’s raison d’etre, range from dazzling to chintzy. It’s hard to shake the suspicion that the Brothers Strause (who actually fared much better with their 2007 debut feature, “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”) intended this sophomore effort as a kinda-sorta product reel to demonstrate their ability to make an f/x-heavy sci-fier on a relatively low budget. But in concentrating on their digital craftsmanship, the helmers have paid little attention to such niceties as credibility and coherence (it’s never entirely clear why some folks in the penthouse think it’s a smart move to risk retreating to a yacht docked nearby).
Sporadic attempts to intensify the minimal suspense with slo-mo and sped-up sequences are inadvertently comical. And judging from the response by paying customers at a latenight showing, even those in the pic’s presumed target demographic may laugh out loud, or shout rude things, in response to the absurdly anticlimactic ending.