The adrenaline rush of not knowing what’s coming next – rarely found in theaters anymore, unless it’s some silly cameo from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – seeps into Jordan Peele’s “Nope” like a ruthless alien civilization a.
Running time: 135 minutes. Rated R (voice throughout and some violence and gory visuals). In theatres.
Excitement and frightening uncertainty are also what make the career of this one-of-a-kind director so compelling. Fans drool when they see the words “Untitled Jordan Peele Project” on a calendar at this point, far more so than they did for “Avatar 2.” Each Peele image is a puzzle that we want to solve.
Of course, nothing will ever fully recreate the magic of “Get Out,” the 2017 horror hit No One Saw Coming that catapulted Peele and star Daniel Kaluuya into the stratosphere and garnered a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
But pass-the-popcorn “Nope,” which reunites the couple, is a fun, smart, artful summer fare whose heart is firmly planted in the heyday of 1980s blockbuster movies. Just when you’re thinking, “They don’t make them like that anymore,” Kaluuya rides in on a horse.
I’ll be careful not to divulge more secrets than I have to, but it’s okay to say that Kaluuya’s character, OJ, and his outgoing sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), are California animal trainers on film sets.
Her family ranch is called Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, and lately business has faltered since her more experienced father mysteriously died – he fell off his horse and a quarter was found inside his brain.
Shortly after the tragedy, the horses throw mysterious outbursts of anger and regularly run into the mountains. OJ, calm and skeptical, begins to observe strange phenomena in the sky.
With the help of an electronics store clerk named Angel (Brandon Perea), the siblings attempt to film what they believe to be a UFO.
Where Peele wanders from there isn’t a land of shocking twists per se, but a clever take on alien lore we’ve never seen before – aided by stunning visuals not typically associated with little green men .
This is especially true for the character Justus. The hilarious Steven Yeun plays the owner of a novel ranch – a roadside attraction with a cartoonish Old West town. We learn that this is his second act in his life, after starring in a popular television comedy called Gordy’s World, about a young child who befriends a chimpanzee.
The film’s most visceral scene – brilliant in what is shown and not shown – references Justu’s traumatic past, adding an unsettling layer of dread to the broader plot.
When it comes to performances, Peele borrows from the philosophy of Thai food: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Palmer is gregarious and hilarious; Kaluuya is reserved and downcast à la “Get Out” and nothing like his energetic Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah”; Perea is a cheeky pooch; and Michael Wincott, jaded as a Hollywood filmmaker called the Antlers, has seen it all. . . nearly.
Nope is a horror film, I suppose, but there’s more awe involved here than pathetic terror. And diverse genres are fused together rather than 100% fear mongering. Peele fuses western, comedy, sci-fi, action-adventure and horror into one cohesive, seemingly simple, laugh-packed film. Michael Abels’ film music, for example, sounds like a disturbing and somewhat comical mixture of Hitchcock films and the theme of Gunsmoke.
The movie is a bit long and the climax surpasses its welcome. This is the only section of the film where the viewer is one step ahead – and therefore it doesn’t sizzle like before.
But the visual splendor of the sequence also proves that the director has a flair for the previously unknown epic. I’m all the more excited about the next “Untitled Jordan Peele Project”.