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65 Review: Adam Driver Can't Save This Sci-Fi Dino-Bore

  • The premise had a ton of potential
  • Actors try their best with thankless parts
  • Said premise is wasted on a dull, self-serious movie
  • Special effects are not very good
  • Character arcs are as cliched as possible

"65" is a logline in search of a movie, but to be fair, it's a darn good logline. That thing in the trailer where they pause on the title "65" before following it up with "million years ago, the search for a new world led to prehistoric Earth"? Writer-directors Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, best known for writing "A Quiet Place," actually do the same trick for the film's own title card, and it's probably the most distinctive thing about the movie. The idea of a futuristic sci-fi space travel movie that's also a dinosaur movie sounds so entertaining that even the bad version of this premise should have been the stuff popcorn matinee dreams are made of.

There's just one problem: Somehow the filmmakers forgot to give the movie any sense of fun beyond that cheeky title card. "65" is a work of pure mediocrity, neither good enough nor amusingly bad enough to recommend — at least without the accompaniment of a RiffTrax commentary to reinsert the humor this deadly self-serious film is missing. Sony Pictures seems to know they have a stinker on their hands, limiting the number of critics' screenings for the movie and not lifting the embargo until it's already opened in theaters. Either the best or worst thing you can say about it is that it's a stinker so generic that you'll barely even remember the odor after it passes.

The Last of Us, but bad

I was rooting for "65" to succeed. I want Hollywood to take chances on original sci-fi action movies that don't come with a giant franchise attached, and they could always use a reminder that there's an audience for dinosaur movies that aren't just "Jurassic Park" sequels or "King Kong" remakes. As far as "original" movies go, however, "65" is dreadfully uncreative beyond the basic premise, utilizing cliched character types we've seen handled way more compellingly nearly everywhere else.

The first sign of the film's lack of imagination comes in the opening, where we find out that the "human" characters aren't time travelers as some might have guessed from the marketing but rather ancient aliens who happen to look, sound, and act exactly like humans. "Human" aliens are common enough in sci-fi, but couldn't there have been some fun in giving the characters any notably alien qualities beyond just having interstellar spaceships and slightly different-looking technology?

Mills (Adam Driver) is our hero, motivated to take an exploratory voyage for the sake of paying medical bills for his terminally ill daughter Alya (Chloe Coleman). Where the voyage is going or what it's doing we don't really find out, as the ship ends up crashing on Earth after an asteroid impact. Mills thinks he's the only survivor of the crash until he finds another, a girl named Koa (Arianna Greenblatt) who doesn't speak the same language but nonetheless becomes something of a surrogate daughter figure for him even as he's mourning Alya. Together, Mills and Koa travel across the land to find the rest of the broken ship and take an escape vessel home.

"Action daddy finds and protects child" has become one of the go-to plot outlines in contemporary popular culture, as seen in the likes of "The Mandalorian," "Logan," and "The Last of Us." "65" parallels the latter specifically with Mills protecting this new child while dealing with the loss of his own — also fitting into that other currently omnipresent theme in genre storytelling where everything is "really about grief." Where "65" truly fails at making these themes resonate is in the characterization. There's just nothing interesting about Mills or Koa, despite the talented actors' best attempts to find something in these blank slates. The closest thing to a meaningful character conflict they face is their language barrier, and in practice that mostly just amounts to Mills repeating the same points over and over again before Koa gets them.

Where's the sense of fun?

So if the human interest is a wash, how are the dinosaurs? Not much better, sadly. It's a real "terrible food and such small portions" scenario, where it's both annoying how much of the film's 95-minute runtime basically ignores the dinosaurs' presence and frustrating how unimpressive the special effects are when they do show up. Perhaps both of these issues are the result of a somewhat constrained budget at $91 million ("Jurassic World" cost $150 million, for comparison), but these dinosaurs are misconceived even from a design standpoint, failing by both the standards of coolness and scientific accuracy.

There are a couple of man vs. dinosaur fight scenes that offer mild excitement, but most of the movie just consists of Mills and Koa wandering around, repeating the same points, and falling down. A lot. (Maybe you'll have more fun if you make this a drinking game for every time Adam Driver falls down in this movie.) The settings are visually appealing in the daylight but this is yet another movie that just doesn't know how to frame night scenes with any clarity.

Even if you're looking for unintentional laughs, there's not a lot to go on in this slog of a movie. I laughed only once, at a scene that was so desperately trying to be emotional but failed spectacularly and got interrupted by a dinosaur in a funny way. "65" is boring enough that at times it had me second-guessing whether "A Quiet Place" was actually as good as I remember it being. That is not the reaction you want from your Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs movie.

"65" is now playing in theaters.