Tepid ‘Captive State’ fails to capitalize on an intriguing premise

What if the aliens crashed the Earth’s party and simply took over? Plenty of movies have showed us the initial landing and battle, but few have gone nine years down the road, showing us the long term effects of an invasion.

Rupert Wyatt’s Captive State aims to fill that void, but the original premise is the only true thing this movie has going for it, along with a sturdy as ever John Goodman. If you are going to drop an alien thriller on the cinematic masses, one must not only be unique with its story, yet follow through on the promise.

After an energetic opening sequence that gets your attention, the film falls into a meandering slog, dishing out one predictable plot thread after another. The young, ambitious Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders) watched his older brother (Jonathan Majors) start a rebellion following the takeover of extra-terrestrial forces, and fail. Gabriel now must choose if he wants to merely survive and live, or make a stand.

Lining up alongside him are his friend and co-worker, Jurgis (Machine Gun Kelly), and girlfriend, Rula (Madeline Brewer), but Gabriel is unsure due to unforeseen forces and past trauma. Standing in his way are William Mulligan (Goodman), a mysterious government agent who may or may not be linked to Gabriel.

When the aliens took over, they didn’t eliminate every human, yet put them to use as soldiers and pawns in their new way of living. This includes taking every cellphone known to man and destroying it, a task Gabriel is given. Imagine seeing so many pictures and videos before they are deleted forever.

There are moments where Captive State aims to be something greater and deeper than a run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller, but right when it starts to dig its feet in, a thankless action sequence occurs and knocks the film out of place. Or a 20 minute draggy-paced exposition takes place, depriving the film of its momentum. This a film that felt like something decent on the drawing board, but during the path to the set, it lost its luster and value.

Somehow, Vera Farmiga, who stole scenes from Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner, has a minor role that amounts to nothing. The usual B-movie players assemble: Kevin Dunn (Veep), Alan Ruck (Succession), and James Ransone (Treme). Sanders and Majors get the bulkiest material, but fail to resonate with their roles. There’s nothing noteworthy happening here. A science experiment in the basement that found funding and wasted it.

Goodman convicts easily on screen, and that’s because at the moment, the actor slips into character so easily. He’s never required a lot of dialogue to truly connect with a role or audience, and here it’s no different. You know right away there’s more to Mulligan than the service level is telling us, and Goodman takes you on that ride whenever he can. Shuttled into a supporting role that peaks late in the film, he can’t rescue the film’s predictably melodramatic climax.

Do the rebels take the fight to the aliens? Sure. Is it worth watching in theaters? No. This is the film you find on Redbox when you’ve already swiped the screen left at least three times and find half of your brain thinking about which frozen pizza you’ll pick out nearby. It’s a serviceable if unremarkable thriller that doesn’t do much different to set itself apart from the other 50 or so alien invasion flicks. All you see is average.

At this point, it’s not too much to ask for more from Wyatt, who once wowed us with The Rise of The Planet of The Apes and pulled a solid performance out of Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler. Stylistically, the film has its moments, and that includes the grungy special effects that resemble a lowly brother of District 9 and Cloverfield. You never feel his attachment to the material, even if the human species takeover vein may try and connect this film to his Apes movie.

Captive State didn’t screen for critics, and it was a head scratcher because Focus Features rarely hides films. Then again, sooner or later, a property owner is going to be walking in the backyard and step on excrement. It happens.

You skip this film in theaters and more than likely, bypass it all together.

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