War of the Worlds

Bomb Rating: 

Welcome to "E.T. 2: The Evil Terrestrials." Based on the enduring novel by H.G. Something-or-Other (I blinked during the closing credits, so missed that particular detail), Stephen Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is the tale of a divorced father struggling to connect with his kids. Fortunately, aliens descend and try to wipe out humanity, which allows the family to spend some quality time together.

Divorced working dad Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is typically at odds with his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). When mom drops them off at Ray's for the weekend, we're quick to understand why: Robbie is an unpleasant snot, and Rachel is the most annoyingly precocious young girl to ever walk the planet, largely because Dakota Fanning's in the role (which I suspect she landed only after Katie Holmes passed).

In no time, there's some lighting and some alien craft and some vaporizing and it's game on as Ray and his kids flee the city with the aliens on their heels. The movie has many echoes: Echoes of "Independence Day," echoes of 9/11, and echoes of an ABC After School Special as Ray and his kids air their emotional laundry in the midst of a hail of alien death rays. It goes something like, "Wow, here come the aliens. You never expressed your love, Dad!" It's that awkward.

Spielberg leaves some hefty holes in the film's logic through which to weave his story. After the initial attack, Ray packs his kids into the only working car in the city and makes good time down the interstate because the traffic jam of stalled cars has miraculously left a perfect minivan-wide corridor for him to speed through. Though clearly technologically superior, the alien army's strategy for the mass extinction of the human race apparently includes house-to-house searches, which - I don't care how advanced your technology - is going to take an extremely long time. When we finally see the aliens, they really do look like an evil version of E.T., as though someone broke the rules and fed E.T. after midnight.

Though Spielberg deserves some credit for staying true to how the original story resolves the "alien problem," this particular resolution seemed to baffle people leaving the preview screening. Apparently, they were expecting something more along the lines of Tom Cruise shooting a bazooka up the ass of the mother ship and saying, "Phone THAT home, muthafucka."

At one point, Tom Cruise's character is asked by his son, "What do you know?" and he answers, "Everything." It's like Cruise's interview with Matt Lauer all over again. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is that after 116 minutes and $128 million of effort, the majority of the comments I heard from the departing crowd concerned Tom Cruise and Scientology. That Tom Cruise's Scientology circus side show has managed to overshadow the entire movie he was sent out to promote in the first place is a good indication that this particular "War of the Worlds" is effectively over before it begins.

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