Americans in Moscow get caught up in an alien invasion in The Darkest Hour, a pokey, cheerless action movie.
Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) are young American entrepreneurs headed to Moscow to get investors for their social-media-nightlife-tourist-app thing. When they arrive at their meeting, however, they learn that you probably shouldn’t lay out all the plans for your million-dollar idea before you get a signature on something — a check, a non-disclosure form, something. Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), the sleazy guy who helped them set up their meeting, has stolen their idea and before they can prevent anything he kicks Sean and Ben to the curb.
Ah, but they’re young. And it’s Moscow. And apparently the bars are teeming with supermodels. So, disappointment aside, Sean and Ben use their app to find a cool bar and meet another traveling American, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), and her Aussie friend Anne (Rachael Taylor). Because it will be helpful later to have someone around whom the audience is supposed to dislike, Skyler also shows up at the bar. So it’s a night of bitterness and flirting and shots until suddenly the electricity shuts off. The crowd at the club heads outside, where they see strange lights in the sky. What at first looks like Aurora Borealis changes to look like a sky full of falling dandelion puffs made of gold light. How beautiful, someone says, which if you know anything about this kind of movie is the sign to run.
Our group doesn’t, naturally, at least not right away, so they get to witness the vaporizing power of these dandelion things. If the pretty pretty light touches you, you pixelate and then turn into a cloud of ash. And then the running and the screaming start.
Eventually, the fivesome holes up in the club’s basement, where the glowy death lights can’t find them. As we see in death-light-vision and as the kids eventually figure out, these alien creatures (or whatever) are attracted to a person’s internal electromagnetic energy. When the kids emerge from the basement and decide to make a run for it (to the U.S. Embassy, just in case the genocide-inflicting aliens, like, respect international law and diplomatic immunity), they try to figure out ways — using “science” — to keep the light balls from finding them and then to fight back.
These are some pretty low-tech looking aliens. Think of one of those plasma globes at the mall where when you touch the glass, a little lightning bolt shoots out to meet your finger. The aliens here look and behave more or less like that. Why one would take such unspectacular looking effects and put them in 3-D — which is how I saw this movie — is a mystery for the ages, though I suspect the extra $4 or so I paid to see it probably has something to do with it. But, for future reference, movie-makers, giving your sad, tired effects an additional dimension doesn’t make them any more exciting.
Putting a sad, tired group of standard, horror-movie type actors in 3-D doesn’t give them extra dimension as characters either. Everybody is SPOILER ALERT just waiting for the plot-appropriate time to die until we get to the core that will inevitably survive. Minghella, who was such snappy fun in The Social Network, has nothing to do here. Hirsch, who has a bit of a dollar-store Christian Slater thing going on, is one of the least enthusiastic action figures I’ve seen in a while. And, while he’s only in his mid 20s, he seems resigned, like he’s been told B-grade horror is the best he’s going to get. (He was in real movies — Into the Wild, Milk — not too long ago. I’m not sure what happened.) The girls get even less to work with. Their characters — essentially, “Girl” — are really only differentiated by the fact that one is blonde and one is brunette.
There is nothing fun or smart about the way this movie brings us the familiar invasion scenario and nothing compelling about the characters or the writing to make it enjoyable to watch. Perhaps we should send copies of The Darkest Hour into space; after watching this movie, aliens will think us too boring to invade. D+
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language. Directed by Chris Gorak with a screenplay by Jon Spaihts and story by Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern and Jon Spaihts, The Darkest Hour is an hour and 33 minutes long and is distributed by Summit Entertainment.