In space, no one can hear a franchise morph into a “Friday the 13th” sequel.
The sixth film in the “Alien” franchise begins with promise. Slowly, we realize there’s little left to shock us within the series’ confines. By the third act we’re watching a death sequence that could have featured Jason Voorhees as well as the franchise’s signature beast.
Long story short? “Covenant” is never bad, but it can’t deliver on its expertly crafted hype. Or provide shocks that come anywhere close to the 1979 original.
The spaceship Covenant is heading to a planet where it will deposit hundreds of colonists to build a new society. The ship’s crew wakes up early from its cryo-slumber when the ship receives an odd message en route to its final destination. The captain (James Franco in a blink and you’ll miss ’em cameo) dies during his frozen nap.
That leaves Billy Crudup’s Oram in charge. And he’s hardly a steady hand at the wheel. Plus, he’s a man of faith, which he claims makes him less trustworthy in his colleagues’ eyes.
It’s one of several notes introduced and then ignored for the rest of the movie.
Oram and co. find the source of the odd message. It’s a planet with an atmosphere that could easily sustain human life. So rather than complete the ship’s mission Oran instructs his crew to visit the surface.
They may have just saved themselves a ton of time and money. Or … they’ve discovered a breeding ground for the creatures who first scared us silly back in 1979.
Director Ridley Scott, trying to make amends for the mediocre “Prometheus,” delivers a chilling prologue with “Covenant.” We’re reunited with David, a humanoid ‘bot played to perfection by Michael Fassbender once more. He’s quizzing his inventor (Guy Pearce) on a number of subjects, but the sterile setting and creepy back and forth suggests something fresh.
Once again the notion of creation crops up, a theme that “Alien” prequel stumbled on five years ago.[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Alien: Covenant’ delivers on an elemental level, but anyone expecting a new sci-fi classic will be let down.” quote=”Been there, been scared plenty by that. What else you got?”]
From there the story takes a more traditional trek. We meet the Covenant crew, a colorful bunch on the surface that never connects with us the way past “Alien” characters did. Not even close. Even Danny McBride, a comic live wire, is flat as the cowboy hat addicted Tennessee.
Only Katherine Waterston, rejecting glib comparisons to Ripley at every step, makes an impression. It’s slight, but in this film we’ll take it.
The film starts very slowly, something a better script would have used to ingratiate us with the cast. When these folks die, and the body count is high, we barely shrug our shoulders.
FAST FACT: Why cast James Franco in a role that has less screen time than your average Stan Lee cameo? He’s more prominent in “Last Supper,” a web-only prologue shot to market “Alien: Covenant.”
Fassbender, playing both David and the more agreeable Walter, injects every scene with a sense of mystery. We still miss you, Ash, but here’s a fine replacement.
That intrigue is missing from the rest of the movie, though.
And that’s because, all together now, it’s a sequel. Yes, technically “Covenant” is a sequel to a prequel, but the song is essentially the same. We get aliens bursting out of chests, using their mandibles to strike their prey and spraying acid whenever they’re cut.
Been there, been scared plenty by that. What else you got? By the third act Scott throws up his hands. “Nuthin'” is his tepid response.
Scott is punching the clock in a way he never did during the 1979 original. Is that a fair comparison? Scott himself set the bar ridiculously high. And in an age when some prequel stories live up to their inspirations (see “Motel, Bates”) it’s not too much to ask of the latest “Alien” saga.
The original film built layers of suspense and claustrophobia. Oh, and by the way, it scared us silly. “Covenent” is content to deliver a popcorn thrill ride we forget after leaving the theater.
No one forgot “Alien.” Still.
HiT or Miss: “Alien: Covenant” is a perfectly acceptable sequel/prequel with action, horror and some heroics. Anyone expecting more than that will be let down, big time.
“DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL”
New kid, gross older brother and parents. Even Rowley is a fresh face. Yet the “Wimpy Kid” template is firmly in place for the fourth film in the franchise.
Once again, kids will cheer the caffeinated antics of Greg Heffley while parents wish they were watching a Pixar romp.
Jason Drucker takes over as Greg, the put upon middle schooler who just wants to play video games 24/7.
Mom has different plans. She always does. And, as played by Alicia Silverstone, she gets her way every time. Had author Jeff Kinney not written her precisely that way some feminists might take fault with her hard-charging character.
You know the Soup Nazi? She’s the Parent Nazi.
Mom forces the family on a road trip to celebrate Meemaw’s 90th birthday. And whatever can go wrong along the way … does. And then some.
What works beautifully on the page once again stumbles in the translation. Kinney’s stories are goofy, relatable and funny for young and old alike. His cartoon style is a big part of that charm. So even though “The Long Haul” replicates it during the film’s opening sequences it eventually has to go the full live-action route.
That’s where the trouble begins.
FAST FACT: “The Long Haul” serves up a snappy film homage mid-movie that will sail over the heads of every pre-teen in the theater. It involves … .a shower.
Director David Bowers, responsible for the previous two “Wimpy” installments, coaxes his stars to play up the mayhem. The smiles are too tight. The grimaces more than awful. It’s a style children will savor far more than their parents.
The story hews closely to Kinney’s “Long Haul,” the ninth book in the best-selling series. That means some signature miscues and the introduction of an adorable piglet. The critter is natural scene stealer.
In a way, Silverstone’s Mom is a kissing cousin to Chevy Chase’s “Vacation” character. She believes so deeply in the nuclear family it hurts … everyone around her.
There’s a subversive comedy lurking within her. “The Long Haul” cares far more about projectile vomiting to find it.
HiT or Miss: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is a serviceable attempt to bring Jeff Kinney’s mayhem to the big screen. Nothing more.