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CAPTIVE STATE

Producer: David Crockett and Rupert Wyatt
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer: Erica Beeney and Rupert Wyatt
Stars: John Goodmam, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Dunn, James Ransone, Alan Riuck, Madeline Brewer, Machine Gun Kelly, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ben Daniels and Caitloin Ewal
Studio: Focus Features

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A Trojan horse motif permeates the last act of Rupert Wyatt’s would-be action movie about an earth that has capitulated to extraterrestrial invaders and a resistance movement fighting the new status quo, and that’s curiously appropriate: a cinematic Trojan horse, “Captive State” promises to be an exciting thriller, but proves stodgy and dull.

After a brief prologue in which a couple fleeing the invaders through the streets of Chicago, their two sons in the backseat of the car, are stopped by alien enforcers, the picture jumps ahead nine years, when the new regime—with the invaders in charge as subterranean “legislators” and human quislings like Mayor Lee (Marc Grapey), Police Commissioner Igoe (Kevin Dunn) and his second-in-command William Mulligan (John Goodman) acting at ground level to keep order—is in firm control.

But as in old TV series like “V” and “Falling Skies” (as well as movies like “Red Dawn,” though there the invaders were Commies), resistance continues. Though the older of the two Drummond boys from the opening prologue, Rafe (Jonathan Majors), is listed as deceased, a legendary hero of the movement, the younger, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, failing to match the promise of his breakthrough roles in “Moonlight” and “The Equalizer 2”) survives, a surly subject of the government who works erasing the memory of digital devices that have been banned by the aliens.

Gabriel remains sufficiently opposed to the regime, however, to refuse cooperating with Mulligan—who as the onetime partner of the boy’s father, feels a sense of obligation to the kid—in helping to unmask the resistance’s leadership and mode of operation, even as the group is plotting an assassination attempt at a big “Unity Event” being staged at Soldiers Field, where the Bears are conspicuous by their absence. He rejects Mulligan’s entreaties even after Rafe proves to be still alive and captured (and tortured) by the cops.

What follows is a confused and slapdash affair as Mulligan, played by Goodman with a perpetually sleepy, world-weary attitude, works to ferret out the ring and prevent the aliens from wiping out a whole section of Chicago, the way they famously did a troublesome area called Wicker Park years earlier. Still, he occasionally takes time off from his official duties to visit a prostitute (Vera Farmiga), who gets her clients in the mood by playing a remarkably well-preserved LP of Nat “King” Cole’s “Stardust,” CDs apparently having gone the way of all “modern” things.

“Captive State” finishes up in a last act with a major revelation about the Drummond family’s past (related through some scratchy old video) and a complete explanation for the resistance’s schemes, though the payoff frankly comes like a bomb that fizzles rather than exploding.
Perhaps that’s the result of the movie’s low budget, which allows for some blink-and-you’ll-miss them alien effects (the rocklike spaceship streaking across the sky could probably have been improved by a twelve-year old at his computer, while the actual extraterrestrials look either like giant porcupines or armored versions of “Predator”). Chicago suffers desolation again, at least from a distance in faraway vistas; the actual street scenes, including the ones around Soldier Field, have just about the same visual finesse of the “Purge” series, shot by cinematographer Alex Disenhof in the drabbest shades of gray and blue.

Along with Farmiga a number of other well-known faces make fleeting appearances in the movie—Alan Ruck and D.B. Sweeney among them—but like her they’re wasted. (There’s also another rapper transitioning to acting—a fellow who uses the moniker Machine Gun Kelly, and was previously in the notorious “Bird Box”—but he merely proves he should stick to his main gig.) Wyatt, who pumped considerable energy into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” fails to repeat the trick here.

One might appreciate the effort to do something different on a modest budget, but ultimately “Captive State” resembles an elongated “Twilight Zone” episode with a twist ending that doesn’t quite come off. And it drags along so desultorily that watching it you might feel like a captive yourself.

FIVE FEET APART

Producer: Cathy Schulman and Justin Baldoni
Director: Justin Baldoni
Writer: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iacois
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parmider Nagra, Emily Baldoni, Cynthia Evans, Gary Weeks, Sophia Bernard and Cecilia Leal
Studio: Lionsgate/CBS Films

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Yet another teen weepie in the vein of “The Fault in Our Stars” and its many imitators, “Five Feet Apart” is about two young cystic fibrosis patients who fall in love during hospitalization, even though their romance is stymied by the fact that the rules forbid them coming within six feet of one another because of the danger of potentially fatal cross-infection.

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) are the would-be couple. She’s undergoing treatment for an infection; he’s participating in a drug trial that might deal with a serious lung condition. Initially they cross swords: she’s a self-confessed control freak, obsessively following the regimen and demanding that others do likewise, while he’s a cartoon-drawing rebel, fatalistically ignoring the rules whenever he can, much to the distress of both Stella and their helicopter nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). But of course opposites attract, and the two inevitably are charmed by one another.

There’s a third patient who’s an important cog in the plot machinery, an energetic gay kid named Poe (Moises Arias), who’s insistently prodding Stella to loosen up a bit, even as she retorts that he has been pushing away partners out of fear of commitment. He’ll become an important part in his friends’ eventual determination to get closer—one foot closer, as Stella decides, using a pool cue as a measuring stick—which will both stretch the rule while maintaining safety. In the process, however, a secret from Stella’s past will come into play that pushes her increasingly toward recklessness in her relationship with Will.

In the end, of course, the sad issue in a picture like “Five Feet Apart” is whether any of the characters are going to wind up, to put it crassly, six feet under. Unfortunately, when the answer comes, it poses no great surprise, since the person has been pretty much identified from the beginning for anyone who has studied screenwriting 101.

Still, scripters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis stir the pot energetically in the final reel, fashioning climax after climax that take the movie from the realm of the merely implausible to the positively absurd in an effort to roil the audience’s emotions. The picture closes, as it begins, with excerpts from a video blog emphasizing the importance of human touch. But whether after all the frantic twists of the last act it’s more likely to affect a viewer’s funnybone than heartstrings is an open question.

Still, those inclined to be moved by such stories—teen girls are the obvious targets, but others may be similarly affected—will find the movie a competent example of the genre. Though director Justin Baldoni is way too prone to follow one of Hollywood’s most appalling rules—when in doubt, throw in another musical montage!—he stages the action decently enough, and after an opening reel in which he indulges excessively in squirm-inducing handheld camerawork, cinematographer Frank G. Demarco settles down and offers attractive widescreen visuals. The picture could use a bit of tightening—it runs nearly two hours—but overall Angela M. Cantanzare’s editing is smooth enough.

As to the performances, Richardson verges on the manic, but Sprouse is nicely laid-back, and Arias balances humor and poignancy. The only other member of the cast who stands out is Gregory, who brings the necessary earth-mother note of hyper-concern for her charges to Nurse Barb. Olivia Spencer couldn’t have done it better.

“Five Feet Apart” is suitable only for those ready to tear up over soap operas about teens with deadly ailments. Others are advised to skip this weepy hospital visit.