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Movie Review: 'The Fifth Wave'

The alien invasion flick The Fifth Wave is YA cheesy nonsense.

Review by Matt Cummings

If there's one thing we've learned about the January box office, it's clear that the reason why many titles find their way here is well deserved. Take the alien invasion flick The Fifth Wave for example: its YA cheesy nonsense and blah finish on the tongue do nothing to strengthen the argument that the genre still has life left.

For mid-teen Cassie (Chloe Grace-Moretz), life is comfortable and filled with parties and typical boy-girl shenanigans, including her infatuation for quarterback Ben Parish (Nick Robertson). Of course, that all changes when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly appears over her Ohio home, eventually unleashing four waves of destruction: EMP bursts, earthquakes/floods, bird flu, and occupation. As Cassie sees her parents die one by one, a military officer (Liev Schreiber) takes Cassie's young brother and other children to a secret military base where he claims they'll be safe. But soon it's revealed that his intentions are not what they appear. As Cassie searches for Sam, she's rescued by the alien sympathizer Evan (Alex Roe) who helps her get on the secret base, only to learn that Sam has been drafted into the army. Struggling within a self-imposed love triangle, she must find her brother before The Fifth Wave destroys what's left of Earth.

The Fifth Wave is about as generic a film as you're going to see. There's the plucky teen who somehow can wage a war against an entire military complex, a half-baked love triangle, a dystopian future, and a twist at the end. If that all sounds familiar, it's because so many YA stories think romance can co-exist with explosions. But that's not the only problem with The Fifth Wave: it also suffers from an inability to actually scare anyone or place its leads into truly dangerous situations. Everyone here feels like they're covered in some sort of protective bubble of blow dryers, maniac agents, and makeup foundation. Once the main point finally arrives - that the aliens (called 'Others') don't understand love and that Evan turns because he instantly falls for Cassie - is ridiculous. I don't think the human race is going to survive in any film based on our love for one another. Moreover, it's impossible to assume that a bunch of 10-16 year-old kids are going to form a tight military troupe while they have no idea of their parent's location. If that really happened, those kids would need deep psychological counseling.

The Fifth Wave tests these limits of credibility often. If one could assume that aliens can navigate space, suspend a giant ship above Ohio, and travel in nearly-silent scout ships, then the chances of a pretty blonde being able to deftly navigate the forest without being snuffed out by said ships is impossible to accept. In the real world, an alien would just push a button and the girl would disappear. Roll credits. But, Director J. Blakeson doesn't do Cassie or anyone else here the justice they deserve, placing our actors in antagonist situations that are either too easy to spot or which lack the basic rules of science. He fails to get excellent performances from them, including an overly quiet Schreiber and an oddly-chosen Maria Bello as a lipsticked doctor with serious age lines in her forehead. In fact, it's the worst I've ever seen her.

Writers Susannah Grant (Insurgent) and Akiva Goldsman (The Amazing Spider-man 2) spend so much time setting things up that any sense of closure is not to be found. You'll have to wait until part 2 to gain any of that, and a poor opening could push that into oblivion. Neither of these writers are Hollywood heavies, and the YA cheesiness they dispense emanates in globs on the floor. Their lines actually encouraged open laughter with our test audience and other critics, so I know that my face-palming was more than justified.

The Fifth Wave fails to duplicate the scale or gravitas of a The Hunger Games and doesn't sell the dystopia like Oblivion or even The Maze Runner. Again, it's hard to see Moretz's Botox-ed lips and perfect hair struggling against aliens, love triangles, or even an original thought. Her arc is so straight forward that any humanity she's claimed has been lost feels more like someone who missed her own hair appointment. The lack of authenticity from any of the leads is palpable, and that's a problem almost as soon as the film starts. Then you realize that there's another 110 minutes of joy ahead. With another losing year in 2015, Sony Pictures is looking to get back in the game; perhaps next year they should pick films that people might actually like to see.

While it tries to fashion itself as a desired trilogy worthy of your dollars, The Fifth Wave is nothing more than YA cheesiness. Its poorly-chosen cast and big-budget blahs make it an instant candidate for why we hate January films so much. We don't expect to see a follow-up, and who could blame us? The Fifth Wave is just plain awful.

The Fifth Wave is rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying, and has a runtime of 112 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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