Frank Grillo leads a band of humans fighting off alien invasion in Liam O’Donnell’s sci-fi actioner.
With strong effects work belying what was surely a tiny budget, Liam O’Donnell’s Beyond Skyline finds the first-time director relying on his experience in VFX departments of much bigger Hollywood productions. While O’Donnell would have been smart to hire a screenwriter instead of doing double-duty behind the scenes, the fanboy crowd won’t complain too loudly with one of their favorite character actors, Frank Grillo, kicking extraterrestrial ass in a space opera that could plausibly launch a very niche franchise.
Grillo (who had a more three-dimensional toplining role in Netflix’s recent Wheelman) plays Mark, an LAPD cop on leave after his wife’s death. Mark and son Trent (Jonny Weston) are trapped on the Metro when a giant alien mothership attacks the city, hypnotizing Angelenos with some kind of blue ray and sucking them up into the sky. There, we soon learn, their brains are harvested to somehow animate the bodies of individual soldiers in the alien army.
Soon, the two men and a few fellow train riders (including Bojana Novakovic’s Audrey, the train conductor) have escaped the tunnels only to be hauled up into the mothership themselves. Here, they learn a bit about the otherworldly beings. (Using man-in-suit tech and practical effects along with CGI, the design team offers some pretty geek-pleasing visions.) Not only do they find that the human brains inside the beasties can sometimes remember their past selves, but they see the aliens’ effect on pregnant humans: Mark has to deliver a baby who is somehow growing so quickly she’ll be a teenager in a matter of days.
Before Mark has to worry about the infant’s sullen, rebellious phase, though, the movie takes quite a left turn: The humans escape the ship and find themselves in Laos, where they team with an impromptu rebel army bunkered beneath centuries-old Angkor-style temples. Their main new ally is Sua (Iko Uwais of The Raid), who introduces some hardcore Southeast Asian martial arts to the mix. Uwais is Indonesian, not Laotian, but some practical inconsistencies will be overlooked by action fans who are excited to see Uwais leap at aliens with knives in both hands.
Less forgivable is the pic’s unimaginative screenplay, whose biggest attempts at humor are lame zingers that appear to have been added in postproduction after someone realized how dull the dialogue was. Sadly, lines like “Hola, puta” and “Bring it on, bitch” don’t scratch that “Hasta la vista, baby” itch.
O’Donnell also winds up devising one of the lazier “I’ve found their weakness!” eureka moments in recent memory, suggesting that a drug dealer can make himself an expert on alien immune systems after a few minutes with a microscope. But viewers who push through this silliness will be rewarded with an action climax that, while just about as ludicrous, is at least enjoyable. If a sequel does in fact materialize, here’s hoping O’Donnell has the modesty to step out of the writer’s chair and focus on the action.
Production companies: Hydrae Entertainment, M45 Entertainment, XYZ Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic, Iko Uwais, Callan Mulvey, Pamelyn Chee, Antonio Fargas, Lindsey Morgan, Jonny Weston
Director-screenwriter: Liam O’Donnell
Producers: Matthew E. Chausse, Colin Strause, Greg Strause
Executive producers: Maguy R. Cohen, Allen Dam, Phil Hunt, Roman Kopelevich, Joe Listhaus, Allen Liu, Emilio Mauro, Li Kitty Rong, Compton Ross, Mike Wiluan
Director of photography: Christopher Probst
Production designers: Ian Bailie, Lauren Fitzsimmons
Costume designers: Anastasia Magoutas, Tania Soeprapto
Editors: Sean Albertson, Banner Gwin
Composer: Nathan Whitehead
Casting director: John McAlary
Rated R, 106 minutes