‘Captive State’ Fumbles Its Ripe Premise

The sci-fi thriller offers a few neat thrills and plenty of nagging questions

Twist endings have a kissing cousin that are just as tricky to deploy.

“Captive State” offers a prime example.

The film’s narrative gets an Etch-A-Sketch shake in the film’s waning moments, a series of reveals shedding light on just about every element we’ve already processed.

Call it the, “oh, and by the way, here’s the real story” maneuver.

Instead of enriching the narrative, the reveals remind us why we weren’t engaged by the characters or crisis in play. It’s a critical error, especially in a film delivering some chilling spins on the “aliens invade the earth” template.

CAPTIVE STATE | Official Trailer | Focus Features

John Goodman stars as Police Chief William Mulligan, a copper in an America set 10 years after an alien force conquered the Earth. Life appears to be back to normal, but everything is run by the unseen Legislators – the aliens tasked with keeping humanity in check.

Chief Mulligan is ordered to flush out a human insurgency, a mission he takes personally.

Good luck with that, though.

Earth didn’t stand a chance when the aliens first came a calling. What kind of threat would a small rebellion pose now? The aliens stay hidden, for the most part, making it impossible to target them at all. Plus, everyone on earth has an implant which lets the aliens track, and listen in on, most conversations.

This isn’t David vs Goliath. It’s Herve Villechaize vs. Wilt Chamberlan in a full court basketball challenge.

It’s one of many nagging questions hampering “Captive State,” a film which rarely finds a sense of purpose, let alone momentum.

Captive State (2019) - Bug Removal Scene (3/10) | Movieclips

Mulligan is particularly focused on Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, “Moonlight”), whose brother famously fought back against the aliens and gave his life to the cause. Could young Gabriel be part of the next rebellion? If so, he better hurry. The aliens vow to wipe out any neighborhood, or city, where the humans aren’t doing as told.

The movie’s themes are obvious, but the screenplay mostly lets us chew on them independently. Sure, the opening exposition (clumsy and a mite silly) reminds us income disparity has never been greater under the Legislators’ reign.

As if anyone cares about that when creepy critters now call the shots.

Still, just what would we give up for security, for prosperity? Life is mostly good under the Legislators’ watch. Why not be complacent and let the aliens do the heavy lifting? It might be nice to see characters, and dialogue, engage with that concept sans lectures.

Captive State (2019) - Roach Attack Scene (2/10) | Movieclips

Sanders’ Gabriel gets plenty of screen time early, but then he disappears for long stretches. Goodman’s character is compelling because the actor is incapable of delivering anything less, but he remains out of our emotional reach.

A small group of resistance fighters emerge mid-film, a woke brigade who at the very least seem capable of carrying the film’s second half. They end up delivering the movie’s strongest sequence, a scheme meant to show the Legislators’ weak spot.

Beyond that, their character arcs add little to the proceedings.

Director Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) stages a few interesting action scenes while shrewdly keeping the aliens mostly off screen.

Mostly, as young Newt might say.

When we do see them up close they’re worth the wait, but that’s not what Wyatt and co. have in mind. The director’s Larger ThemesTM would be more potent had we cared about anyone on screen. That’s too tall an order here, even if Sanders’ bond with another character briefly engages us.

“Captive State” got enormous pre-release buzz, akin to a superhero release. Would the movie be part of the anti-Trump Resistance? Is it the next cult sensation? Could this indie film be Hollywood’s next sleeper smash?

When it finally hit theaters audiences collectively yawned, and understandably so.

HiT or Miss: “Captive State” makes the most of its low budget, and a strong turn by John Goodman, but is unsatisfying on a number of levels.

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