Giant monster movies rely on obvious metaphors.
Japan’s nuclear-scarred paranoia gave birth to the original “Godzilla,” while America’s campaign in Vietnam served as the allegory for this year’s “Kong: Skull Island.”
“Colossal” subverts that idea with a romantic comedy interrupted by a “kaiju” monster attack on the other side of the globe. Here the metaphor illustrates how our selfish behavior has real-world consequences for those around us.
The result is an ambitiously peculiar but not entirely successful genre mashup that no one will ever confuse with “King Kong vs. Godzilla.”
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Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a New York-based millennial who blogs for a living. She’s as casual about her career as she is about coming home at a reasonable hour. This infuriates her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens), who realizes the only thing she takes seriously is drinking.
With options dwindling, she returns to her modest New Jersey hometown and moves into her parents’ now-empty residence. She also happens across childhood friend Oscar (KC’s Jason Sudeikis), who has taken over his dad’s neighborhood bar. Oscar offers Gloria waitressing shifts, allowing her some breathing room to rebuild her life.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, South Korea, a mammoth reptile arrives and tramples skyscrapers and inhabitants. As the whole world monitors the periodic reappearance of the giant on television, Gloria can’t help but observe she shares the same distinctive quirks as this horned menace.
“Ever notice how it keeps moving, destroying everything in its path without ever looking down?” comments one of the bar regulars.
Hey, that sure sounds a lot like Gloria when she’s drunk.
Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (who received a 2005 Academy Award nomination in the short film category) keeps this wacky premise from self-destructing by virtue of his patience. Each new plot beat gets doled out slowly so that the viewer can savor the mystery en route to what exactly is going on.
The writer/director is blessed with two leads who completely buy in to his vision. Hathaway, the love-her or hate-her superstar, plays yet another train wreck of a character. From beneath her Afghan hound-like hairstyle (which hilariously mimics the creature’s horns), she exhibits the blithe detachment of her generation. Like she’d rather be texting than speaking face-to-face.
It’s the type of “big-city girl revisits her hometown” role that Reese Witherspoon might have played 15 years ago. It’s not showy enough to earn Hathaway another Oscar, as when shaving her head and singing ballads in “Les Miserables,” but the work is no less effective.
Similarly, former “SNL” heavyweight Sudeikis supplies a different vibe than expected from a “guy who never left his hometown” role. His movie career has primarily been built on portrayals of affable smart-asses. His character is shadier here, best exemplified by a drunk scene in which the actor’s casual demeanor makes him even more threatening.
Studios take note: Sudeikis could join the ranks of other comedians — a la Robin Williams, Albert Brooks and Steve Martin — who deliver some of their best work when playing bad guys. Given the right project, he’ll provide a mesmerizing villain.
Despite its inherent lunacy, “Colossal” holds together until flashbacks start to explain how these events got set in motion. But the revelations seem so underdeveloped that you wonder if parts were edited out.
Like any kaiju movie, the picture really hinges on the final battle. “Colossal” features a satisfying climax in which both the American small-town and the Korean metropolis collide in fanciful fashion. And this battle showcases the improbable acting heavyweights of Hathaway and Sudeikis.
(At Alamo Drafthouse, Barrywoods, Town Center.)
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated R. Time: 1:50.