Movie Review: To have a “close encounter,” you need “Proximity”

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“Proximity” is an alien abduction thriller that’s more about the time travel. The look, the paranoid vibe and the music scream “late ’80s,” and seeing as how it’s from a guy whose visual effects credits include “Tron: Legacy” and “Stranger Things,” that’s literally by design.

The movie? There’s a cheerful cheesiness about some of the effects and a few jokes are tossed into the early part of the third act. But the cast is a collection of bland unknowns, the plot is buried under nonsense, the dialogue often tin-eared and the entire enterprise gets worse the longer it goes on.

And it does. Go on. And on.

Ryan Masson stars as a young signal researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena. Isaac Cypress is a geek among geeks (Kylie Contreary and Max Cutler play colleagues) , cycling to work, seeing a shrink, quick to trace signals from space to their (often) Earthbound origins.

His “hobby” is playing around with what looks like a bulky late ’90s camcorder. The psychotherapist thinks he should do a video diary with it.

That’s how the kid happens to make a recording of his alien encounter and abduction. Since everybody in Southern California saw the mid-day fireball streak across the sky and crash (more of a “touchdown”), running this video through channels at his workplace won’t do.

Isaac uploads the video the video onto the Internet. Very cool “skinny alien out of ‘Signs’ followed by the camera tracking Isaac’s ascent into the flying saucer (No saucer shots, lad? Sloppy.) and going to static.

He endures a TMZ’d media feeding frenzy, does one TV appearance where he’s asked dumb questions and all-but-mocked by the blonde reporter stereotype. And that’s when “others” take an interest, even as there are plenty of people going on TV to discredit him. He has barely met the oddball Sara (Highdee Kuan) and un-credentialed but suspicious “writer” who “stumbles” upon him when he and Sara are abducted again.

Agent Graves (Shaw Jones) does NOT consult a lawyer before nabbing these two or interrogating them.

“We have detained you, against-your-will,” because he and his “people” see Isaac “as a danger to society.” I mean, the liabilities in that admission are through the roof.

At some point, a lot of what comes out of characters’ mouths starts to sound like a “Try again” English-as-a-Second-Language writing assignment.

At no point do our players look as freaked-out and alarmed by any turn of events as your normal human being would.

I mean, Isaac and Sara are interrogated in classic, featureless sci-fi “white rooms.” They’re guarded and chased by Storm Trooperish robots with C3PO heads and no digital ability to properly aim a laser blaster.

There’s a mysterious “expert” helper (Christian Prentice) who knows what’s going on and who’s doing it, an earlier abductee to flee to and laser fire to dodge all along the way.

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Eric Demeusy is the effects specialist turned writer-director behind “Proximity,” and he gives us a few quite-cool effects — a pickup truck lifted skyward and flipped, humans tractor-beamed up towards a generic flying saucer, and a carriage-roof chase on a train as seen in infra-red.

But this clunky movie is more fun to play the “Wait, why?” game with than to actually watch.

Why would people on the run be making their getaway on a Canadian short-run steam excursion train? Why would Isaac think a “writer” would have access to a “lie detector” app for his laptop, and that such an unprofessional version of that procedure would have any value in making his case?

Why would a UN alien-research agency (ISRP doesn’t just mean “International Society for Respiratory Protection” any more.) deploy cumbersome robot soldiers straight out of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?”

Why would translated alien space messages include directions to “the solar system” and “Earth?” I mean, both are on ALL the star maps.

Those head-scratchers wouldn’t stand out if the cast could make us care, fear for their future, declare that “The truth is ‘out there'” and demand that we hear about it. They don’t.

Masson may have the right, odd look — — a skinny/gawky, less-butch and Americanized Eddie Redmayne. But there’s little to this performance, and Kuan’s character is so under-written that even a good performance (nope) would be hard-pressed to make her interesting.

The promising premise here, that whole encounter and media frenzy, is tossed aside. The effects are worth noting because they’re the stand-out trait of “Proximity.” Making the aliens generic and un-menacing while the hilariously-flawed and easy to elude UN robots are the villains? Kind of a Mick Huckabee-inspired blunder.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: Unrated, some violence

Cast: Ryan Masson, Highdee Kuan, Christian Prentice, Shaw Jones, Don Scribner

Credits: Written and directed by Eric Demeusy. A Shout! Factory release.

Running time: 1:55

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