Just before July 4th, America is facing its biggest threat ever: humongous UFOs are surrounding it and before anyone can react, they start destroying major cities all over the world. It’s up to a group of unlikely heroes to counter-attack. You’ve got Jeff Goldblum as a computer geek who figures out everything and does a lot of exposition, trailed by his father, an annoying Jewish stereotype. Then there’s Bill Pullman, a pretty good actor but not the right guy to play the President. He’s too young and quirky and anyway, I’m not sure I buy the idea of a jet pilot in the Gulf War who’s elected President. Randy Quaid is even less relevant as a drunken, cooky ex-pilot who starts out as a total loser but will, obviously, end up saving the day. Honestly, who really cares about any of these one-dimensional characters? The only enjoyable guy in the film is Will Smith, who’s fun to watch as an Army pilot (what’s the deal with all the pilots?). But even the Fresh Prince isn’t cool enough to save this messy flick.
“ID4” might have grossed a gadzillion dollars, but it’s not actually a good movie. I have nothing against huge special FX if they’re meant to help the story (like in the “Star Wars” series), but when the FX are the only thing worth seeing, it doesn’t make for that great a movie. There is some stuff I dug in “ID4”: I was intrigued by the huge, mysterious black UFOs hovering over Earth, casting large shadows over landscapes. And when these ships blow up the White House and a bunch of other buildings and structures, it sure is impressive! But around that, the film is all dumb, corny and unimaginative. It’s not only unbelievable, but also unexciting and uninvolving. You’ve got these boring scenes in the Pentagon where stiff men in uniforms utter pseudo-formal jargon, and then flat bits presenting the vast gallery of uninteresting characters. There isn’t even much action in the movie, and we barely see the aliens, who look like rubbery octopuses.
“Independence Day” was written by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, with Devlin producing and Emmerich directing. These guys seem to specialize in big empty movies like the ridiculous “Universal Soldier”, the disappointing “Stargate” and the awful “Godzilla”. All these movies feature some stunning sights buried under a ton of boring and/or frustratingly stupid scenes. In “ID4”, for every cool FX shot (say, a fleet of fighter jets attacking a spaceship), you get ten minutes of flavorless filmmaking (like, some of the cardboard characters visiting a mad scientist type at Area 51). “ID4” is barely worth seeing; it doesn’t have the sense of wonder of a Spielberg (“Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind”), nor the thrills of a Cameron (“Terminator 2”), or even the mere technical efficiency of a Bay (“Armageddon”). It has the big budget and SFX of a 90s flick, but it still feels like a 1950 B-movie, and not even a good one. Now that’s sad.