Genre: Old-school creature feature for camera-phone age
The pitch: The going-away party for young Manhattan executive Rob (Michael Stahl-David) turns into a struggle for survival when a giant monster lays siege to the city, all captured on a single handheld camera.
Money shots: Laugh while you can as reluctant party documentarian Hud (TJ Miller) trails after a disinterested hottie (Lizzy Caplan). Stop laughing when the Statue of Liberty's head soars down and crashes in the street. Cloverfield's really big thing sheds these littler things that are even scarier. Thanks to the camera's night-vision feature, the heroes see something particularly nightmarish in a subway tunnel.
Money sounds: Even this movie's noises are terrifying, starting with ominous stomping sounds before the film even begins. A collapsing bridge emits massive groans and pings as its support cables snap. And those littler things I mentioned? Eating noises.
Best line: "I just can't stop thinking about how scary it would be if a burning homeless guy appeared," Hud babbles as they walk through the subway.
Flesh factor: Odette Yustman lays in bed, comely but concealed, in the first scene. She and Jessica Lucas show off a lot of leg with their short party dresses, and Lucas' gets more ragged as the film goes on. (Yustman and Lucas are so beautiful, you wonder how Michael Stahl-David's and Mike Vogel's characters can even talk with them, let alone get with them.)
Product placement: Budweiser flows at the party -- it's very much that kind of crowd. Seemingly every other person has a cell phone, but Nokia clearly gets pride of place. The heroes break into a Dasani water vending machine to wash after a particularly nasty attack.
Inside joke: Vogel wears a "Slusho" T-shirt, named for a fictional beverage on "Alias" from producer J.J. Abrams. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard are alums from Abrams' TV shows.
Too soon? Images of destroyed national monuments and New Yorkers running from dust clouds may conjure memories of Sept. 11, especially among actual Manhattanites. Nevertheless, Cloverfield never mentions terrorism and stays apolitical, so you could compare it to the 1950s monster flicks that tapped Cold War anxieties.
About that title: According to the Internet Movie Database, the name comes from the boulevard in Santa Monica where Abrams' Bad Robot offices were located during the making of the film. Apparently it was a code name that stuck.
The bottom line: Cloverfield lives up to six months of online hype. Once the bad stuff starts going down, no one in the theater takes a breath for an hour. It even offers a fairly touching story of callow New Yorkers who find love and meaning in the teeth of disaster, amid all the holy-crap monster spectacle. 4 stars
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