10 Cloverfield Lane not a great destination

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1.5 out of 4 stars

There are prequels and parodies, sequels and spinoffs, and even remakes and reboots, yet it is hard to classify the science fiction horror thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is in a little bit over her head as Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane. (Paramount)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is in a little bit over her head as Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane. (Paramount)

The movie shares a name with the 2008 hit Cloverfield, which followed a group of friends documenting a monster attack that wiped out New York City, and was also produced by J.J. Abrams, but after that, the relationship gets blurry. It’s why Abrams called 10 Cloverfield Lane a “blood relative” of Cloverfield, which creates a problem: sometimes family members are so different it’s hard to tell they are related.

“They’re not in the same timeline,” director Dan Trachtenberg told reporters of his directorial debut. The secrecy around the film “was very much J. J.’s thing, and it was something I hoped would come to fruition in terms of the marketing and the trailer and all that stuff. It’s so exciting to hearken back to a time when we only found out about a movie from its trailer.”

That approach worked for Cloverfield, which was first introduced as a trailer before the blockbuster Transformers in the summer of 2007. Cloverfield ended up making more than $170 million at the worldwide box office — not bad for a film that had a $25 million budget and a cast featuring Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Stahl-David and Jessica Lucas.

Now, 10 Cloverfield Lane will see what it can do on a $5 million budget, a cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. and an even more mediocre plot. 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was first introduced to moviegoers with a trailer that aired before 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi in January, isn’t pretty on the big screen. And it could be even uglier at the box office this weekend, since Zootopia, London Has Fallen, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will command large slices of the box office pie.

John Goodman's portrayal as a crazy Howard Stambler isn't enough to overcome all of 10 Cloverfield Lane's shortcomings. (Paramount)
John Goodman’s portrayal as crazy Howard Stambler isn’t enough to overcome all of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s shortcomings. (Paramount)

10 Cloverfield Lane will be fortunate to get a piece that’s even close to the size of the small bunker where a good chunk of the 105-minute movie is set. It is where Michelle (Winstead) comes to her senses alongside two dudes named Howard (Goodman) and Emmet (Gallagher), who claim they saved her life. But they also are the bearers of grim news: everyone outside is dead.

But how? Zombies? Monsters? Aliens? North Koreans? Or, are Howard and Emmet lying?  Do they have ulterior motives to keep a pretty cute chick hunkered down with them? They don’t know or won’t tell her, just reiterating that she’s safer below the hatch than above.

“The movie has a real Twilight Zone feel to it,” Trachtenberg said.

Of course, Michelle tries to escape instead of spending the rest of her life chilling with Goodman and his neighbor.

“What I loved most about her is she’s kind of badass from the beginning,” Winstead said. “With her, she was smart and strong and capable from the get-go, as I think a lot of women are.”

Still, Winstead doesn’t resonate with the audience nearly as well as Goodman, who is the film’s lone bright spot. His transformation as an actor continues to be as impressive as Goodman shedding 100 pounds. For years, Goodman was simply Dan Conner, Roseanne Barr’s portly husband on the hit sitcom Roseanne for about a decade, but he’s recently excelled in more serious roles. He was a sadistic loan shark in 2014’s “The Gambler” and a husband trying to save his marriage in Love the Coopers last year. Now, he’s Howard Stambler.

“If I were to take any of that guy home with me, my wife would have put me out on the street,” Goodman said. “Except Howard probably cleans the dishes really well, so she would have let me do the laundry and the dishes first before she put me out.”

Maybe, but she would make Howard take all remains of 10 Cloverfield Lane with him when he left.