Movie review: 'The Cloverfield Paradox'

Brad Keefe

OK, Neflix. You have our attention.

I can't well review a new theatrical release this week (alas, “50 Shades Freed” screens for critics after our deadline) without acknowledging the enormous alien life form in the room.

Yes, Netflix pulled a Beyonce/Radiohead with its Super Bowl ad promoting the heretofore-under-wraps latest entry in J.J. Abrams' loosely connected “Cloverfield” series.

And then, plot twist, it was dropping on Netflix right after the game! No months-long marketing push, just a trailer drop, then a movie drop, completely bypassing theaters and firing a huge shot in the streaming wars.

As movie marketing stunts go, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is unprecedented. As movies go, it's got too much precedent, derived from a mishmash of bits from far-better sci-fi offerings.

It borrows a lot from a number of sci-fi thriller greats, notably “Alien,” “Event Horizon” and “The Thing.” It also reminded me of a not-great sci-fi, sharing an obnoxious proclivity for Dutch-angle shots with “Battlefield Earth.”

But let's highlight some positives. This is the second sister film (sequel doesn't really apply) to follow 2008's “Cloverfield,” an inventive found-footage flick that used a terrifying alien attack as backdrop. Eight years later, the brilliant, underrated “10 Cloverfield Lane” took a survivalist premise and tied it to the larger universe that's becoming the Cloverfield franchise.

This is a brilliant concept when it works. It doesn't work for me much at all with “The Cloverfield Paradox,” but let's hope that doesn't derail the series.

In short, I found this tale of a space-station crew testing a device that could end Earth's energy crisis to have some great moments, but largely suffering from being too derivative and, on occasion, barely comprehensible. It also has a great cast of actors who deserve more attention but suffer from generally poor character development.

So I didn't like it, like a lot of critics. No biggie. See it for yourself.

But this raises a larger point and some concerns. “Paradox” has its share of online supporters who say critics are dumb and don't know how to have fun.

But, I have to ask, are we lowering those standards because we didn't pay $12 to see this in a theater? If it had been more successful in what it was going for, this would have been a hell of a lot of fun in a theater.

Film distribution is definitely going to continue to change, but we should be careful to say goodbye to the theater model. Our standards may go with it.

“The Cloverfield Paradox”

Now streaming on Netflix

2 stars out of 5