REVIEW: While thought provoking, “Nope” is rarely gripping

“Nope” is a UFO movie. I’m resistant to using the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena term, UFO just sounds better.

In writer/director Jordan Peele’s newest film, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as O.J. and Em Haywood, respectively. The brother-sister duo inherited a ranch from their father where horses were raised and trained to be used in the entertainment industry.

The business is struggling lately, though, and to generate revenue, O.J. has been selling off the horses to Jupe Park (Steven Yeun), the owner of a nearby cowboy-inspired theme park. As time goes on, the family’s financial situation becomes a lesser issue, with strange and disturbing events beginning to happen, with a potential UFO in the area.

There can be so much compelling subject matter in a film about UFOs and/or extra-terrestrials. The mystery, intrigue and wonder of the unknown, as well as the answer to whether there’s life outside of Earth and the fear from what a visitor might want here, can make for really engaging cinema.

Films such as “Signs,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and others are able to capture these elements of a UFO experience. Unfortunately, “Nope” doesn’t offer the same enchanting atmosphere as some other alien films of the past.

Peele certainly gets the fear that can come with a close encounter right, as there are plenty of suspenseful moments. It’s also true that the film’s overarching theme of how mankind can go to dangerous lengths for the sake of spectacle and amusement is thought-provoking.

The theme is well established with Park and the Haywood family, and it ties in again and again to what’s happening on screen as the movie goes on. One can appreciate the film having something to say and Peele being able to say it clearly.

Courtesy Universal Pictures and Monkeypaw Productions.

However, while the film has meaning and a handful of exciting scenes, the movie as a whole is just hard to really get into. For all the messaging the film had worked into it, it often remains an empty experience.

What should be an exhilarating watch where characters react in astonishment and are pushed to investigate because of humanity’s natural curiosity is instead a meandering exercise where the protagonists seem to just want to get whatever’s happening on camera, make a quick buck and move on. There’s no drive with these characters to really dig deeper into what’s taking place.

Something like 2020’s “The Vast of Night,” a movie with a budget of $700,000, managed to be a much more gripping experience than “Nope.” There should be a feeling of fear and amazement when it comes to looking up at the sky in this situation, the former film gets it right, the latter didn’t.

The characters are also a detriment to the film’s enjoyment. The main protagonists came across as one dimensional. O.J. is a reserved, stoic rancher, while Em is an overly excited fame seeker. There’s simply a lot less personality with either character than one would expect from one of Peele’s projects.

At the end of the day, both O.J and Em are rather unmemorable, and it’s difficult to get invested in them or their plight. The same is true with the electronics salesman character Angel, played by Brandon Perea, who offers little more than comic relief.

Peele has shown in the past that he’s a talented, competent filmmaker. However, while there’s a strong subtext at work and a few eerie sequences that play out, “Nope” is never a film that grips a person from start to finish. Despite being well made, it’s ultimately kind of hollow. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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