The first thing to know about the new movie “65,” in which Adam Driver plays a dinosaur-fighting astronaut, is that it’s not really about time travel. Driver’s character, the one-named Mills, doesn’t go through some portal and return to prehistoric times. No, he’s actually an alien from an advanced civilization whose ship was hit by an asteroid – do you see where this is going? – stuck on Earth.
It’s a fun idea with a lot of goofy potential that’s completely wasted by filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who are best known for coming up with the idea for the box office hit “A Quiet Place.” Instead, they play it completely straight in what should be a movie that revels in its silliness. The audience will probably want to scream at the screen, “Come on, Adam Driver fights dinosaurs. This shouldn’t be serious!”
Aside from a single inspired, gut-spewing dinosaur kill, “65” is overwhelmed by a melancholy that doesn’t befit something that’s inherently ridiculous. Beck and Woods attempt to turn their conceit into a lone wolf and cub story, all too familiar in the era of “The Last of Us,” when all we really want to see is an Oscar-nominated actor as a big lizard.
In a prologue set on a nondescript beach, the audience learns that Mills embarks on a two-year expedition to raise enough money to treat his sick daughter (Chloe Coleman). After some quick context, the action jumps to Mills’ ship full of human cargo sleeping in cryo-chambers. The peaceful journey is quickly interrupted by surprise asteroids, causing Mills to crash land and become stranded in the swampy terrain of Earth.
At first Mills assumes that he is the only survivor and is willing to give up hope, but it turns out that he is not the only one of his kind living in this strange land. He soon discovers that one of the pods contains Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), a young girl from another region who does not speak his language but babbles in a made-up language. This lack of communication is frustrating for Mills. However, he quickly realizes that Koa resembles the girl he left behind, and his defensive instincts kick in. To get off Earth, they have to get to a rock where the part of their vessel where the escape pod broke off.
Making matters more urgent, it turns out that the space rock that felled this pair is part of a larger astrological event that will have dire effects. Yes, the asteroid? This is heading towards them. So, where are the dinos? Frankly, not nearly enough, which might be helpful to Mills and Koa, but annoying to audiences who bought tickets hoping to see a roaring, rampaging beast.
Beck and Woods are sparing with the use of dinosaurs, but the effect is less Spielbergian than boring. Despite this, they still deliver some exciting action scenes, including a bit where Mills and Koa are forced to run from a T-Rex into a cave with no exit.
But other encounters range from derivative — the T-Rex appears in the rain as an obvious homage to “Jurassic Park” — to just plain unexciting. For a project by Sam Raimi, the master of creepy practical effects, gore is mostly kept to a minimum. It’s all bizarrely tasteful, focusing more intensely on Mills and Koa’s relationship, which also lacks depth. It’s a pairing we’ve seen time and time again: strict man and quirky kid. It’s getting old.
Starring in “65” is an interesting turn for Driver, who has recently opted for prestige projects with big-name directors ranging from Michael Mann to Francis Ford Coppola to longtime collaborator Noah Baumbach. It’s not that Driver lacks a sense of humor; his roles on “Saturday Night Live” prove he has a taste for fun, as does his wry work with Baumbach. Even Kylo Ren in the “Star Wars” series has a campy feel to it. But here, he seems downright uninterested in giving Mills any distinct personality beyond “sad dad” and “grumpy hero.” Still, it’s hard to blame him when the material is this lackluster. He may be from another planet, but nothing separates him from other dudes.
You can kind of see what Beck and Woods were going for; “A Quiet Place,” co-written with John Krasinski, works because of family. But this movie’s premise — “be quiet or the monsters will get you” — values intimacy, while “aliens vs. dinosaurs” favors broadness. The result is a strange tonal deviation, an undercooked emotional two-hander with random dinosaurs. The biggest disappointment of “65”? B-movie betrayal is ingrained in his DNA. A stupid idea like this should be more stupidly enjoyable.
Sony will release “65” in theaters on Friday, March 10.
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