Stay on target MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Captive State is a dark, somber, low(ish)-budget, science-fiction political allegory that dares to ask the question “What if District 9 and They Live were the same movie — and both took themselves much too seriously?” Directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of The Planet of The Apes) it wrings impressive visuals from a minuscule budget and digs enthusiastically into big, meaty ideas about class, geopolitics and war-fighting but fails to engage emotionally; mostly thanks to a screenplay that’s more devoted to moving pieces around for an unnecessarily convoluted (and too easy to figure out too soon) plot twist than to letting us fully connect with any of our featured players or their world.Set eight years from tomorrow after Earth has been invaded, conquered, and effectively colonized by a technologically-superior alien race identified only as “The Legislators,” the story limits the majority of its scope to cat and mouse battles between human police and government officials collaborating with the alien occupiers and the insurgent resistance fighters working to bring the system down in the walled-of city of Chicago. That narrow focus helps keep the budgetary scope manageable, but it also lets the onscreen events more directly present the obviously intended “think about it, won’t you?” visual parallels to real-life military-versus-insurgent scenarios of recent years aimed at hitting Western and specifically American audiences right in the “How would you like it???” soft-spot – which is quickly apparent to be the overriding goal here.Story-wise, Chicago is the focus because it houses one of the main access hubs leading to the underground cities where The Legislators are at work stripping the planet of its natural resources. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) and John Goodman are, ostensibly, our main characters; respectively playing a street-smart young hustler angling to get himself and his girlfriend out of the city for good (only to find himself drawn into the machinations of an anti-legislator resistance cell who venerate his deceased brother as a heroic martyr) and a world-weary police investigator who sees his mission to thwart the so-called “terrorists” not as collaboration but as all he can do to prevent The Legislators from simply leveling the city he used to call home.Because it’s “that kind of movie,” the two men share a connection that you will almost certainly guess well before it’s established and probably even sooner than you pick out the earnestly-loaded trigger-switches being carefully set in place to make the stiflingly-obvious Act 3 turnaround happen; but to be honest Sanders and Goodman are both exceptionally good actors and so good here that, were they allowed to simply play their dynamic out across the whole film the overall familiarity of the telling wouldn’t be as much of an issue. The problem, instead, is that no sooner are we sold on the tone and texture of this morally gray two-track dual-protagonist narrative than does Captive State decide to sideline them for most of its middle section.It’s a truly bizarre structural decision; one that feels a lot like the film must have come in too long at one point and this was the best they could get to at a reasonable length: After spending nearly all of its introductory scenes establishing the world of the film and its rules through the movements of two characters, the film abandons both for an extended sequence detailing the elaborate series of checks, codes, hacks and procedures by which the network of minor and/or previously-unseen characters comprising “the resistance” can congregate, plan and execute a daring act of insurrection against the bad guys in which Goodman’s character barely participates until showing up for the very ending and Sanders isn’t present at all.Maddeningly, the sequence itself is the technical highlight of the film — a bravura clockwork mechanism of introductions, seemingly-random minor visual cues and actorly-tics that effectively communicate what’s going on with only the barest hint of data. It’s easily one of the clearest illustrations of “this is how an effective insurgent campaign works” I can recall seeing put to film, science-fiction tinged or otherwise — and as a short film in its own right it’d really be something; but as part of this one it’s mostly mechanical and distancing, because we don’t know these people, or really why we should care beyond their individual actors being reasonably compelling. In fact, it feels so separate that instead of ending with the expected up-close confrontation with The Legislators (who we don’t really ever get much of a look at, but for what we see they’re sort of like if Venom was a porcupine) they end up against different, more conventionally “Predator-esque” looking armored aliens that get called in for reinforcements whom we also never see again. And then it’s done with and we’re back to the “real” movie again for a “no, that wasn’t the plan — this was the plan!” finish that’s nowhere near as cleverly-disguised as it thinks it is.Frustratingly, I really wanted to like this more than I did. It honestly does so much right in the bits and pieces that I’m sorely tempted to give it a pass because you want to encourage studios to let established directors do mid-budget passion projects around big ideas, taken seriously, staged with good actors and made with real conviction and something to say. Indeed, even in 2019 it is pretty gutsy for a Hollywood studio to put a movie out where the open and obvious point is “Hey, maybe try to see things from the insurgent’s perspective” (whatever you think of the point itself.) But execution matters, and too much of Captive State ends up feeling like homework.