“Nope” would be a disappointing release no matter who directed this muddled mess of half ideas and failed attempts to create tension. The disappointment is magnified by the fact the film comes from writer/director Jordan Peele. The sharp focus he had on developing suspense, creating textured characters and writing stories that were thought provoking in “Get Out” and “Us” is nowhere to be found here.
The film about a close encounters of the extraterrestrial kind comes across like a rushed attempt where instead of finding one solid idea, Peele empties his notebook. This jumble of bits and pieces continuously counters any sliver of terror that Peele tries to generate.
At the heart of the film are a brother and sister horse training team. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) is trying to keep going the family business of wrangling horses for movies. Emerald (Keke Palmer) has a split focus between the horses and her own career.
Sibling rivalries are set aside when the brother and sister notice something strange in the cloud-filled sky above their isolated ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley. Their discovery would suggest that the name of the film, “Nope,” is a revelation that it stands for Nothing of Planet Earth.
Their efforts to deal with the threat would have been plenty to give the movie a solid thread of impending doom. “Nope” reunites Kaluuya and Peele. The writer/director should have known after watching Kaluuya’s brilliant performance in “Get Out” that he can be trusted to carry a film. Kaluuya and Palmer would have easily carried the audience along on their quest.
But, Peele was either not confident that the storyline was strong enough or merely let his early film success blind him. He begins tossing in other storylines that develop so poorly they end up being a distraction.
The biggest problem is the material built around Steven Yeun’s character of Ricky “Jupe” Park. The former child star now operates Jupiter’s Claim, a family-fun theme park based on the California Gold Rush.
Disjointed moments set at the theme park are only there to put in context Park’s life that is shown through a flashback scene to when a deadly incident ended his situation comedy when he was a child. Peele tries to use the scene to make a point about the nature of nature but there’s never a full commitment to it.
Peele sprinkles seeds of potentially interesting ideas in the film only to play hit and run. One such moment is particularly cruel when it comes to Park’s former sitcom co-star who is still dealing with the aftermath of that big event from years ago. Adding another life-changing moment to her life lapses into the overly sensational.
Don’t look for any real development around many of the multitude of ideas in “Nope.” The same goes for the one regarding aging (and possible ailing) cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) who joins the siblings in an effort to photograph the unusual thing in the sky. There’s a weird glimpse of his obsession with brutal animal films but that is dropped quickly.
Even when Peele tries to focus on the central story, he has great lapses. There is a moment when the siblings experience a catastrophic moment that leaves their home looking like it had been hit by seven plagues. The logical thing would be to notify authorities but instead they take illogical actions in an effort to keep the story going.
Along with solid acting, another saving grace is the look of the film. Peele used a very claustrophobic approach in “Get Out” to magnify the emotional, psychological and physical elements. He opens up the world with “Nope” with all of the spacious areas around the central location. The look is more expansive and that makes for beautiful visual moments. It looks good but doesn’t tighten the ropes of tension nearly as well.
It would have helped if Peele had picked a genre as “Nope” has elements of horror, westerns, family drama, science fiction and fantasy. It is another example of Peele not being completely tuned in to this project.
The failings of “Nope” is partly because of Peele’s lack of restraint in terms of mangling together mismatched ideas. It is also the fault of Peele having had so much success with his past two films that more was expected with film number three. He’s very talented and if he can either re-focus or find an outside voice to help him stay on a proper path and remind him that it is acceptable to make needed edits, Peele will again make a great move.
“Nope” doesn’t even come close to that level.
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea
Director: Jordan Peele
Rated: R for violence, language, bloody images
Running time: 135 minutes.