“Nope” (R, 135 minutes, in theaters) is a big tease.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated (at least by me) latest thriller, more sci-fi than his usual horror (“Get Out,” “Us”), tantalizes with scenes that you assume will tie together in some mind-blowing way.
But … nope.
The heart of the story involves an alien spaceship threatening the Haywood siblings, laconic OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and gabby Emerald (Keke Palmer), who train horses for Hollywood on a remote California ranch. There’s a mysterious, deadly shower of household items, horses start getting spooked, a nearby cloud doesn’t move in the sky. Something weird is clearly going on above, and OJ and Gabby are determined to record whatever close encounters they might experience for public consumption. After all, it could bring big bucks.
Meanwhile, flashback scenes depict a TV sitcom chimp, Gordy, going on a bloody rampage in front of a live audience.
The Gordy scenes are great – and I do mean great. Scary as hell.
But is Gordy related to the goings-on at the ranch? Loosely. Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), owner of a Western-themed amusement park near the Haywood ranch, was on the sitcom set as a child actor during Gordy’s freakout and managed to survive. Park also meets with the Haywood sibs and has a dramatic encounter – that’s an understatement – with the extraterrestrials.
As far as I can tell, though, Gordy really doesn’t have anything to do with the alien storyline. Maybe thematically in some vague way (you know, the idea that danger is potentially always just around the corner … or behind a cloud … or on a TV sitcom set). But writer-director Peele never convincingly connects the dots.
That’s the thing with “Nope.” You just keep waiting – for the Gordy scenes to be relevant to the overall story, for the amusement park in the desert to live up to its (comedic?) potential, for the alien encounters at the horse ranch to reach a knockout conclusion.
And you’re left waiting. The film runs a hefty 135 minutes, and so much of it is devoted to building suspense in anticipation of something unexpected, or satisfying in some breathtaking way. Something that never quite arrives.
You get the sense that “Nope” is merely a rough draft for a movie that could have been so much more.
It definitely could have used more Gordy. ** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.
The connection between Gordy and the alien is Jupe. When Gordy went bananas, Jupe lived, thinking that he had a connection with Gordy, thinking wild animals can be tamed for profit. Thus, he treats the alien as something that can be tamed and used for profit. He was wrong in both instances, and the only thing that saved him with Gordy was the shoe, and his focus, which kept him from looking directly in Gordy’s eyes.