Watching Liam O’Donnell’s Beyond Skyline, a Los Angeles–set alien-invasion action sequel to 2010’s critically-panned-but-audience-adored Skyline, had me rethinking how I approach film criticism. I hadn’t seen the original but knew it had found a home with sci-fi-loving movie freaks who took a shine to its slick special effects and B-movie cheese. To them, it was a success. So what if I viewed Beyond Skyline purely on those terms? What if I didn’t bother looking at character development (there’s none), narrative structure (zilch), continuity (are they in…Laos?), or dialogue (“Come and get me, motherfuckers!”)? All I had to do was decide whether this thing was fun. Well, Beyond Skyline is pretty fun, even if it’s completely nonsensical.
Frank Grillo plays tough-guy detective Mark, who’s mourning the death of his wife, Rose, and the loss of his relationship with his estranged son, Trent (Jonny Weston). The story starts when Trent gets himself busted (maybe for fighting?), and Dad has to wield his influence to get his son off of charges. After leaving the police station, the two hop on the train — yes, there really is a subway in L.A. and it’s quite nice — and attempt to have a chat, but before that can happen the train crashes into something and stops dead on the tracks. Conductor Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) — who clearly moonlights as a model, as so many train conductors are wont to do — teams up with Mark to get passengers to safety. But the second they exit the station, they’ve got a giant alien spaceship waiting for them — and anyone who looks at the blinding light it’s emitting goes zombie and gets vacuumed up into space.
The aliens whittle down the escapees one by one. Some get hilariously bad exit lines (“Hola, puta!”), but this is shooting-human-guns-at-mega-aliens fare, so I guess we’re not supposed to demand that it be interesting — and here’s a shout-out to the location manager for using the Los Angeles River bike path! Things really pick up once everyone gets sucked into the spaceship. O’Donnell was a VFX guy before moving into directing, and his attention to detail in this area elevates the bad schlock to beautiful dystopian schlock. The aliens themselves are gargantuan creatures, a mix of practical and VFX, who truly seem sinister, despite the silliness of the rest of the film. Grillo and his castmates play for serious, but there’s still an undeniable wink in their performances, as if they know what they’re saying defies logic. It’s like if CSI: Miami got invaded by aliens — and Grillo is doing his best David Caruso.
A lot of things happen, and then a mutant baby who ages years in a single day is born. Somehow Mark, Audrey, and the baby — who’s, like, already three — get spit out in the middle of a guerrilla war in Laos. Give O’Donnell points for creativity.
No matter where these characters end up, they are haunted by an excruciating blues score that sounds like a bunch of lawyers formed a weekend band to cover the Road House soundtrack. And yet even that annoying guitar skronk is laughably charming. O’Donnell seems to get he’s not shooting for the stars with his film, which is often so polished and slick looking. He even throws in an adorable blooper reel under the end credits. And you know what? The actors look like they’re having fun, too.
Directed by Liam O’Donnell
Opens December 15, Cinema Village