No thanks, Mr. Peele.
For well over two hours, I sat in my theater seat and wondered what was happening and why in “Nope,” Jordan Peele’s latest film. After a bloody opening with an unkempt monkey, an early sequence wastes little time buzzing the brain with possibility.
A couple men on horses look up at the sky and realize random crap is falling on top of them in the middle of an inland California ranch. One of them dies after a coin falls directly from the sky and slices through his eye. The other is spooked that this is the beginning of something more sinister and deadly. Before long, certain mysterious yet also recognizable aircraft can be seen jetting around the ranch in the sky, which collectively gets a “nope” from its characters. Siblings O.J. and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) are ranch-owners who operate an entertainment and stunt-performing business out of their home, and find themselves at the center of this mystery.
What is the aircraft?
Is it aliens? Is it something else?
What do they want?
What’s Peele’s spin on it?
While these things are still being broken down in my head after I watched it two days ago, I can tell you something assuredly. I didn’t care for this movie, or how it made me feel and what it did with all the hype over the past few months. The questions are answered to a certain extent, but not in a satisfying condition. If this was supposed to be some kind of wildly conceived indictment on our society for how we react to something new, we’ve been there already and it was done better. If it’s supposed to be a straight up artificial intelligence banger, I wasn’t impressed or entertained. If it’s something else, I missed it completely. Certain movies are polarizing in their intent and execution, but all I left with after this film was sleepiness and bewilderment.
Peele’s previous cinematic efforts, “Get Out” and “Us,” were more cohesive and multi-faceted entertainments, with each getting more bizarre yet electric as the running time stretched on. They were elevated past the point of intrigue. In “Nope,” nothing really happens of significance for such a long period of time in the movie that even a well-timed jump scare literally pulled three or four people next to me out of a deep snooze. Michael Wincott is a creepy commercial director who sees some profit in the odd occurrences on the ranch, but it’s not a fleshed out character. He comes and goes, just like most of the characters not named Kaluuya and Palmer.
The two leads do their best to run around and push the sense of the plot into the audience, but it’s not a success. They just look like John David Washington in “Tenet:” stuck-looking in a movie that spins in a circle without doing much to lift the story past suspense. The first and third act are exciting in moments, but overall “Nope” is a letdown. Steven Yuen and Brandon Perea are fine in their supporting roles, but don’t get a chance to run with the role.
The film opens and continues to reference the bloody scene of a talk show where a chimp went wild and killed everyone, and “Nope” goes back to this scene often throughout the film as if it’s scratching the surface of what actually happened in the world that set off this string of events. But all I got from it was the shock value of the horror, and little for the story and how it connects.
It’s also very possible that this film simply flew over me like the mysterious aircraft flew over the Haywood Ranch, even if I didn’t care to saddle a horse and go chasing after it. My dad frequently reminds me that watching a movie is like looking at a painting in a museum. You walk by it, glance towards it, and maybe you are pulled closer for a tighter look. Or, you see nothing that interests you and just move on. Without an intent to trash a talented filmmaker’s vision, “Nope” did nothing for me except leave me tired and carrying more than a few questions.
Here’s the thing. I never got a sense of what Peele wanted this film to be, outside of mildly shocking and thrilling. The worst thing a film critic can leave a theater with is confusion over what the package delivered was supposed to mean or imply. I left “Nope” in exactly this state.