July 28, 2022

“Jordan Peele subverts expectations (again) with ‘Nope’” — NPR

“’Nope’ is a spellbinder that keeps pushing boundaries” — ABC News

“Jordan Peele’s UFO saga ‘Nope’ resists giving up its mysteries, which made me want to watch it again right away” — Toronto Star

These are a sample of the mounds of adulation critics have been heaping upon Jordan Peele’s latest picture, Nope. But despite the preening press, Nope offers viewers more style than substance.

Thanks in part to Hoyte Van Hoytema, the cinematographer best known for his work with Christopher Nolan, the film features gorgeous vistas and, at times, haunting scenes. Set in the arid and rocky landscape of northern Los Angeles, Nope takes full advantage of its mountainous backdrop; it blends classic Western tropes with science fiction.

But beneath the flashy vignettes lies a film that doesn’t quite know which story it wants to tell. Instead, it crams its copious lofty ideas into more than two hours of run time, feeling torpid and dragged out.

After their father is mysteriously killed by piercing debris shot out of a cloud, Emerald (Keke Palmer) visits her brother, O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya), to find their family ranch on the precipice of demise. O.J. has been selling horses to a nearby amusement park to keep the business afloat. But, after witnessing an extraterrestrial phenomenon, they hatch a furtive plot to make history (and bank) by being the first to secure footage of alien life on film.

The execution of their plan to lure the alien is among the few highlights. Discovering that the UFO’s presence casts a field disabling all surrounding electronic devices, O.J. and Emerald hook up the wacky inflatable stick figures found in car dealerships to batteries. The menacing descent of the alien is accentuated by the gradual collapse of the flailing tubes, which, coupled with an excellent accompanying score, casts a chilling atmosphere that almost makes up for the bevy of shortcomings with nearly every other aspect of Nope.

The film takes over an hour to introduce and flesh out its characters, but they never develop beyond their first impressions. At the end of the film, O.J. is as reticent as in the beginning. Mumbling through most lines, he exudes almost no emotion. In one scene, when he believes he is seeing aliens in the stable, his first instinct is to take out his phone and take a picture — an entirely irrational and unnatural instinct at a moment of danger that only serves to display one of Jordan Peele’s intended motifs: the cultural merit we place on obtaining fleeting internet fame and the reckless lengths taken to achieve it.

Meanwhile, alongside the O.J. and Emerald, there’s Ricky (Steven Yeun). He runs the amusement park and has a tangential storyline of his own, which, while having no impact on the outcome of the film, only exists to display more of Peele’s pontification. This time, it’s about our societal perception of trauma (Ricky was a child actor whose career was cut short when a chimpanzee destroyed the set) and animal exploitation and subjugation — tying together the chimp, the horses on O.J.’s ranch, and even the alien UFO.

It’s an understatement to say that there’s a lot going on in this film. It’s so busy juggling its themes that it never commits to any one idea with enough conviction to pull it off. Peele’s directorial debut that won him a screenwriting Oscar, Get Out, was a brilliant thriller about the racial aloofness of white, suburbanite progressives. It was simple and straight to the point.

Peele is a talented filmmaker. In another great scene, prior to the alien’s big reveal, O.J. gazes out into the night as flickering lights forebodingly dance in the distance. Nope’s triumphs are ephemeral, but when such scenes are on screen, they almost justify the IMAX admission. But beneath its visual feats, Nope is, at best, a mediocre sci-fi picture. Enjoyable in parts but stretched over a 130-minute run time to accommodate its multitude of themes, it quickly becomes a dirge.

Originally Published at The Washington Examiner