The Department of Defense doesn't have editors on the payroll, apparently, so we are forced to watch the entire tape, which includes at least a half-hour of filler about a going-away party at a mid-town apartment.
To feed the illusion that we're watching found footage, "Cloverfield" uses a cast of sub-star actors with a kind of Gap-commercial blandness. It's often hard to tell who's who, but the backstory breaks down like this:
Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving for a job in Japan, just days after finally consummating a lifelong crush on Beth (Odette Yustman) who shows up at the party with ANOTHER GUY, so they have a fight.
Rob's friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is filming everything, because he's been asked to record the testimonials of party guests. He uses this as an excuse to bird-dog a cute girl (Lizzy Caplan).
Just about the time you start wishing that a monster would attack the city and start killing these people, a monster attacks the city and starts killing these people.
All the yuppies spill into the street, where they are nearly crushed when the monster decides to use the head of the Statue of Liberty as a bowling ball - the movie has some startling images, and this is one of them.
We are privileged to re-witness these events because, for some insufficiently explained reason, Hud continues to film when he should be more concerned with surviving, or helping others survive.
"Arm yourselves!" shouted a filmgoer at the preview.
Amen, thought I.
But Rob, Hud and the gang keep right on filming as they head crosstown to find Beth, trapped in her toppled apartment building. Thus, we get sidelong glances of National Guard tanks and troops at work, streaking warplanes and glimpses of the monster.
If you can get past the idea that Hud is filming when he should be fighting, you can enjoy "Cloverfield" as a fairly interesting twist on the Blair Witch idea, taking the novelty of blinkered perspective and applying it to the big-ass monster movie, which was desperately in need of a re-imagining.
Its other extra-added ingredient is 9/11, inevitable given the setting. We see the Chrysler Building imploding in the manner of the Trade Center towers, sending that familiar tsunami of dust cresting toward the onlookers.
This is probably in bad taste, and really doesn't make sense, since the monster is not in a position to make buildings implode. It shows the movie straining for 9/11 resonance, as it does when somebody wonders whether the monster was unleashed by "our government."
The same kind of let's-get-heavy mindset that weighed down "The Mist." *
Produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk, directed by Matt Reeves, written by Drew Goddard, distributed by Paramount Pictures.