Wednesday, January 4, 2012


 “Right at Your Door” director Chris Gorak’s apocalyptic science fiction actioneer “The Darkest Hour” (** out of ****) qualifies as initially provocative but incredibly anti-climactic. Freshman scenarist Jon Spaihts formulated his outlandish script about a “War of the Worlds” invasion of Earth by invisible predators from a story that “Dante's Peak” scribe Leslie Bohem and first-time writer M.T. Ahern penned with him. If you’ve caught the trailer for this half-baked hokum, you know it pits a quartet of trendy, American, twentysomething guys and gals in Moscow against aliens determined to wipe out civilization while they extract all of our mineral resources. Basically, humans cannot see these extraterrestrials, but they have no trouble seeing us. These elusive aliens atomize anybody in sight without warning. If they don’t outright zap you, they snare you with a neon-like electric bolt noose and then vaporize you in a shower of dust and sparks. Despite the lethal edge which they have over humanity, these anonymous antagonists aren’t invincible. “The Darkest Hour,” as its Winston Churchill inspired title insists, charts a catastrophic course for the future of mankind. Our handsome heroes and beautiful hellcats have to figure out how to make these extraterrestrials visible before they can terminate them with extreme prejudice. Sadly, Gorak and company don’t outline the parameter in this alien procedural about what these aliens either can or cannot do. After an impressive warm up act which introduces these unusual aliens, “The Darkest Hour” collapses in the middle and then at fade-out comes to a screeching anti-climax. Indeed, “The Darkest Hour” paints humanity into a corner similar to the 2010 alien invasion opus “Skyline,” but the survivors here stand a better chance in the long run. Fortunately, mankind proves that the aliens are not indestructible. Of course, it is far too early to determine whether or not a sequel for “The Darkest Hour” will materialize where humans triumph over the aliens.

Software designers Sean (Emile Hirsh of “Into the Wild”) and Ben (Max Minghella of “The Social Network”) have been pals since they met in elementary school. Their mothers served together on the same PTA, and Ben’s mom prompted her brainy son to associate with Sean. Now, Sean and Ben are business partners. They have developed a seminal social website that points out the best party places on the globe. Our heroes are flying into Moscow to pedal their software with the help of a shrewd Swedish businessman. They are about to land when smart aleck Sean tangles with a Russian flight attendant over the probability that his cell phone could disable the electronics of an aircraft and make it crash. No sooner do our internet entrepreneurs set foot in the conference where they plan to pitch their application to investors than their Swede partner Skyler (Joel Kinnaman of “Easy Money”) informs them he has stolen their idea. Summoning security, Skyler gives our guys the boot. Sean and Ben wind up in a bar to get sloshed when they encounter two American tourists, a photographer, Anne (Rachel Taylor of “Transformers”) and her assistant, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby of “Juno”), who have followed them on the Internet. Adding insult to injury, Skyler shows up at the same bar. No sooner have our heroes chugged a few drinks than the lights go out. Curiously, everybody ventures outside for a dazzling light show comparable to the aurora borealis. Objects that resemble shimmering golden jelly fish plummet to Earth by the millions. A Moscow cop probes one with his nightstick, and he disintegrates into a cloud of dust. The crowd scatters frantically as these jelly fish aliens explode other humans one-by-one. Sean, Ben, Anne, Natalie, and Skyler lock themselves inside a walk-in fridge at the bar.

Several days later they emerge to find Moscow a place of desolation. Sean and Ben are plundering a police cruiser for equipment when an alien spots them. Any time they pass electrical devices, such as lights, car horns, cell phones, etc., the aliens activate them. Our heroes conceal themselves under the cop car, and the alien miraculously misses them. Afterward, our heroes venture out only during daylight. Naturally, they find the American Embassy in shambles, but they spot a life in a nearby skyscraper. A young Russian teenager, Vika (newcomer Veronika Ozerova), has holed up with an eccentric middle-aged Russian engineer, Sergei (Date Atbakhtadze of “Wanted”), who has constructed a cage of metal bars and chains inside his apartment to shield their own human electrical fields from the aliens. Moreover, he has also designed a “Ghostbusters” type microwave gun which can stun the aliens. Sadly, Sergei manages to prove that his weapon works, but the batteries don’t hold a charge long enough. Meanwhile, our heroes escape with the gun and head for a Russian submarine in the Moscow River which is broadcasting an evacuation signal. Sean and company link up with a militia group. The militia look like a bunch of medieval warriors with 21st century firepower. They wear makeshift suits of chain mail which consist of keys and car tags. They have even decked a horse out in similar regalia. Reluctantly, the militia agrees to escort our heroes and heroines to a rendezvous with the sub despite the heavy presence of the invisible aliens. Predictably, not everybody survives the gauntlet of aliens between them and the submarine. Ultimately, our heroes learn how to kill the aliens.

The best thing about “The Darkest Hour” is the aliens. The worse thing is we’re told squat about them. These extraterrestrials never communicate with humanity in the form of either warnings or ultimatums. Worst, since no friendly aliens live amongst us as in “Cowboys and Aliens,” we have no clue about why they have invaded Earth. A Russian militia leader speculates that the aliens have come to deplete our mineral resources and kill us in the process. Once the heroes create their microwave weapons, Gorak gives us little more than a glimpse of these enigmatic aliens. Essentially, they look like black shiny skulls with loops of chains gyrating around them. They cannot see through windows, and they have trouble operating over bodies of water. Gorak and his writers take their subject matter far too seriously and never take advantage of the goofy way the aliens appear or the crazy way that humans drape themselves with metal objects to shield the electrical energy. The 3-D version of “The Darkest Hour” has little edge over the flat, 2-D version. Meantime, neither breaks any ground where alien invasion movies are concerned.