The Pitch: “Prior to the advent of mankind, in the infinity of space,” the opening text crawl reads, “other civilizations explored the stars.” Adam Driver‘s Mills is from one of them, an everyman transport pilot tapped with shuttling a crew of passengers on a long-term exploration mission; the hazard pay promises to help him afford his sick daughter’s (Chloe Coleman) lifesaving procedure.
But as these things tend to go, disaster strikes, and his ship crash-lands on a mysterious planet, with a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) as the only other survivor. With their ship torn in half and the two speaking different languages, they must find a way to work together to traverse the dangerous forests and dark, dim caves between them and their rescue ship. There’s just one catch: This is Earth in the age of the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs. Are. Pissed.
Jurasskin’ Too Much Of Your Audience: You’d think it hard to mess up a concept as transparently rad as “Adam Driver is a spaceman shooting at dinosaurs with a laser gun.” And to be fair, a few fun moments live up to that premise, though most of them were revealed in the film’s promotional materials.
T-rexes peeking into cave entrances, jump scares involving velociraptors, a cave chase that echoes The Descent — all of these offer some welcome demonstration of what’s promised on the tin. Not only that, a third-act complication cranks up the clock they’re running against: The asteroid that made their ship crash also happens to be the one that’ll soon wipe out the dinosaurs.
It’s handsomely staged, at least: Cinematographer Salvatore Totino (sadly, not of the pizza roll empire) mines a lot of spectacle from a two-person jaunt through the woods on a $45 million budget, and the costumes and futuristic gadgets are cool to look at, if a bit derivative. Across Mills and Koa’s 15-kilometer trek, they run across sandy beaches, roaring waterfalls, sinking quicksand, and a host of other outdoor environments that feel downright novel in the age of the Volume.
But save for one or two inventive complications in desperate times, Mills’ run-ins with the dinos are clunky and frustratingly straightforward: Terrible lizard hisses at Driver, driver points space gun at lizard, pew-pew, lizard goes away. Add to that the rubberiness of the CG with which these dinos are presented, and you’ll ache for the lived-in detail of even the later Jurassic Park/World films.
Dino Ren: Still, A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, now promoted to the director’s chair, can’t help but bog such schlocky potential down in long, ponderous glances and aching, derivative pathos. You see, it’s not enough to let loose with all kinds of sick dino action as Driver dodges geysers and mud pits armed with a Halo-like laser rifle (whose rapidly-dwindling ammo count displays along the side, one of the film’s sole bits of tension). Like A Quiet Place, it’s actually a tale about overworked fathers filled with regret and the second chances fate hands them to make up for it. Driver and Greenblatt do their level best to make their dynamic work, given the arbitrary language barrier between their characters: Driver, in particular, handles the physicality of his role quite well. It’d be neat to see him in more good-guy action roles after this.
But the pair are burdened by a trite emotional conflict as predictable as it is clunkily staged: Driver misses his daughter, depicted with aching mawkishness by a series of memory-card transmissions she sent him throughout his journey. And here he is, a man missing his biological child, burdened with a resourceful, now-orphaned tot he’s responsible for keeping alive.
It’s not hard to see how that relationship will progress, and Beck and Woods aren’t interested in complicating that beyond the broad strokes. The push and pull of their quest — chase, near-death experience, quiet moment of bonding, rinse, repeat — is as reliable as it is overused, to the point that it grows tiresome even at the film’s breezy 90-minute runtime.
The Verdict: At all turns, 65 feels like it doesn’t know how to communicate its premise — even its preposterous title card, which starts with the number “65” before tacking on one explanatory phrase after another until you feel like you’ve just been a party to the screenwriters’ desperate pitch to executives, appeals with a kind of desperate camp.
That’s just about the only fun you’ll have, though; Driver treats the material like it’s Shakespeare, when the very concept calls for something a little more sincerely goofy. It’s like watching After Earth, in reverse: Earth has now played host to two intergalactic parent-child struggles, one on each end of humanity’s time in the sun.
One can only imagine a better version of this with the rough edges sanded off: A campy man vs. nature survival struggle, leaving the Earth reveal as a casual twist, mining its prehistoric setting for all its ridiculous thrills. If Sam Raimi were in the director’s chair, rather than just producing, imagine the kind of fist-pumping schlock feast we could have enjoyed.
Where’s It Playing? 65 is currently overexplaining itself and weeping at video diaries (with the occasional dinosaur attack) in theaters.