(Neill Blomkamp, US, 2009)
Okay, it's a neat mixture of high-concept and low-fidelity. It's a gonzo faux-blockbuster, a hyper-VFX'd movie done (relatively) on the cheap. It has this cute little mockumentary narrative device and it's political allusions are present-but-not-in-your-face.
These things alone, however, do not a good film make. D9 is only barely watchable, consisting of rote, psuedo-verite camerawork, silly acting, and uninspired special effects, with only the most cursory nods toward the themes it touches upon. It's basically an action film dressed up as a sci-film dressed up as a semi-serious sci-fi film. This isn't to say that the film has any real pretenses - it's well aware of it's lack of depth, and makes no bones about it. If only the film were more enjoyable...
But it just isn't. None of the interesting questions posed at the outset (Who are the aliens? Why have they come here? Why, despite their clearly superior technology, strength, intelligence, are they not kicking serious terrestrial ass?) are ever answered. Instead, it becomes a tiresome chronicle of the misadventures of Wikus Van De Merwe, the lead character. A genial dumbass, Wikus does provide a bit of slapstick humor, but he's little more than a human face to anchor the long procession of action scenes. The real protagonists are the visual effects, and they're not much more interesting than poor old two-dimensional Wikus. (The one cool FX concept, well exploited in the ads, is the massive, hovering mothership. Blomkamp squeezes this for as much juice as he can, but it doesn't cover up the lame, cheap looking aliens.)
About half way through the picture, I yawned for the seventh time and realized how bored I was. The action, which is the only potential saving grace, is poorly executed, with everything shot super-close and jittery. The grimy camerawork feels more affected than authentically gritty, and the editing is jagged, sub-Bourne mania. There's nothing original on display here - more than anything, it's a project that feels like it was made because it could be - fresh blood (Blomkamp), a star producer (Jackson) and a bargain of a price tag (reputedly in the $30 million range, a steal for a potential action hit, which D9 has handily become.) It might as well be a long trailer for the sequel, which will surely have more money behind it, but will likely be just as impoverished when it comes to ideas.