The name of the movie is the least expensive, and possibly most important, part of the marketing process. Take John Carter, for instance. The movie should have been called A Princess of Mars, a title that is not that well-known outside of science fiction circles, but one that a lot of casual readers would know even if they never delved into Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series. However, some executive decided that guys - keep in mind, the demographic most likely to have read and be familiar with the series - would not see a movie with the world "princess" in it, especially from Disney. Therefore, the movie was going to be John Carter of Mars, a confusing title due to that being the last book in the series that Burroughs wrote (and more of a coda than an actual novel). However, no one has apparently ever heard of women being science fiction fans, so the next thing was to get rid of the "of Mars" part so it wouldn't alienate the female demographic and just call it John Carter - a movie that could have been a documentary about an accountant. It is one of the many reasons that movie tanked.
Jordan Peele took a lot of risk calling his third film Nope. Pretty much a name like that had wannabe critics everywhere just hoping the movie was a failure just so they could say, "Should you see this movie? Nope!" Keep in mind that the average movie critic has the same creative thought process as one of the army of writers for a Marvel film, and about the same idea of what is considered a good joke. Apparently, Peele wanted "nope" to be the reaction the audience had to the scarier parts of the film, to have them balled up in their seats afraid of what might come next. While it wasn't the only miscalculation that Peele made, and while Nope may be the least of the movies he has released so far, it definitely doesn't deserve such an easy dismissal.
OJ Haywood (Danieal Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) own a horse ranch in Agua Dulce, California that they inherited from their father (Keith David). The ranch has fallen on hard times and OJ is considering selling the land to Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star that now owns an Old West-themed amusement park nearby. However, before the full negotiations can be made, something peculiar begins to happen. A strange craft is seen in the sky and one of OJ's horses goes missing.
Finding their current camera system inadequate and, needing something that won't fail when the craft knocks out the electronics, they purchase new equipment from Fry's Electronics and get the attention of employee and UFO buff Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), whom they originally find annoying but soon partner with in an attempt to catch a clear picture of the craft. Their plan is to capture the first solid proof of alien visitation and make a nice profit on top of it. When Jupe and a crowd of spectators suddenly disappear during an encounter with the UFO Antlers Holt (Michael Wincott), a grizzled editor and director, agrees to help them in their quest.
The first thing wrong with Nope is that it is about a half hour too long. Its length would be justified if any of the characters were actually interesting, but Kaluuya mumbles through a good portion of the film and Palmer motormouths, slurring her words together. I am quite aware that regionally, and ethnically, this is normal speech, but movies are reflection of reality rather than a portrayal of it. This is an ongoing problem in movies today and Peele, at this point in his career, has at least enough clout to tell his actors to speak up and speak clearly, so I'm assuming this was a stylistic choice.
The other problem is Steven Yeun's character Jupe. He is featured heavily in the trailers, enough so that one would think that he, and whatever he brings to the story, is of the utmost importance. One gets that feeling early on, as he is the survivor of an on-set attack by a chimpanzee on a '90s sitcom that nearly kills two of his costars. While it features prominently in Nope, the whole incident seems separate from anything else that occurs, including to Jupe himself. Apparently what Peele was getting at, as with the rest of the movie, is that people quickly become enamored of spectacle to the expense of the people involved, and often ignoring the truth behind the events. He thought it was obvious that the side story about a beloved sitcom coming to an end due to a tragic event would immediately click with audiences as being relevant to everything else in the movie, but it is handled in a clumsy manner. The connection is lost, and it feels like it belongs to a completely different film.
Despite these problems there is still a lot to like about Nope, including the fact that Jordan Peele, even if the execution is uneven, still came up with a new twist on UFOs and alien invasion movies. The main story, despite some unneeded interruptions, works well, particularly once Antlers Holt and Angel join the party. Michael Wincott is so gloriously over-the-top with his character that he outshines the rest of the cast. He also provides one of the examples of Peele's strange sense of humor, something that is severely missing from a good portion of the movie. The last 20 minutes is quite intense and worth the wait.
Still, it didn't have to wait. Most of Jupe's story could have been cut and it would not have affected the movie at all other than to get to the point quicker. It is also hinted there is some tension between OJ and Jupe, something that Emerald at one point exploits, but we never learn enough to care. I will excuse some issues with creature design though I believe with the resources Peele had for this film it could have been much better, particularly when at one point I was wondering if the whole thing wasn't an attempt by Jupe to get OJ scared enough to give up his land cheap. Nope is still a great example of why Jordan Peele is considered one of the better modern horror directors, but it could have been so much better. Hopefully he remembers to tighten up things again for the future, as well as remind his actors to enunciate.
Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun
Director: Jordan Peele