Never ever let that “Grace” middle name fool you. Chloe Grace Moretz is a badass.
She lets her inner tough-broad take charge in “Shadow in the Cloud,” one of the last movies to come out in The Plague Year, and easily the best B-picture of the pandemic.
It wears its antecedents with pride, makes better use of digital effects than any “Wonder” this or “Fantastic” that. And even the odd twists that take it over the top and throw it off, here and there, seem pre-destined — fated to be and all of a piece.
This damned this nothing if not a hoot.
What director Roseanne Liang and her co-writer Max Landis (son of John) did was mash up one of the most famous “Twilight Zone” episodes, those WWII era “gremlins” cartoons — the Army training films and the Bugs Bunny riffs on them — with one of the most famous Spielberg “Amazing Stories” episodes.
And for good measure, there’s even a hint of a legendary Denzel Washington/John Goodman team-up tossed in.
In 1943 New Zealand, a B-17 is ordered to fly from Auckland to Samoa on a top secret WWII mission. There’s a package that British WAF (Women’s Air Force) airwoman Maude Garrett (Moretz) is supposed to deliver there. And nothing, not the crude come-ons of the sexist crew nor anything else hurled into this Mission from Hell is going to stop her.
To the captain and much of his crew, she’s some “stuck up tart” or worse. The vulgarians sentence her to “The Sperry,” the ball-turret machine-gun mount on the belly of the plane, aptly-dubbed “Fool’s Errand.” She is stuck in the most dangerous part of “Fool’s Errand,” flying through what is not regarded as “a combat zone,” forced to listen to every ugly remark made about her and her sex by the crew of six, barely-tolerated by the Captain (Callan Mulvey).
But they also hear her when she reports A) a “Jake” Japanese scout plane just below them in the clouds, and B) “There’s something on the underside of the starboard wing.”
What? “Belly gunners always go crazy.” She’s seeing “wildlife” and before they know it, she’s “taking potshots at unicorns.”
A pointy-eared, bat-like beast the size of a small man is crawling about where no one else can see. Get her OUT of there! “Get me OUT of here!”
“Am I sensing a tone?”
“Yes, Captain, I have a TONE.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if they got her out straight away. And before this flight is over with, we’re going to learn a lot more about her and what she’s made of, even if we can’t figure out what manner of beast this is gutting the engines, cutting the radio and baring its fangs and claws, trying to get at the woman trapped in that tiny, battered glass-and-aluminum casing.
You know the “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Maybe you missed the “Amazing Stories” episode about a trapped “Sperry” (the manufacturer) gunner on a B-17, “The Mission.” Hats off to Kiwi director Liang (“My Wedding and Other Secrets”) and co-writer Landis for grafting those two stories together, giving a comically crude military-in-wartime twist to the sci-fi tale that made William Shatner famous.
The action beats are out-there (on a budget) and the fun, while interrupted for monologues, back-story, pathos and glibly-skipped-past deaths, seldom lets up.
As I said, it’s a B-movie — horror and history and sci-fi wrapped up in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” digital aircraft, air battles and fights-to-the-death with an alien (ish) intruder.
And Moretz is front-and-center, often the only tense-but-never-panicked face we see as she has to listen to abuse from the multi-national crew of sometimes piggish men, trapped in a tiny ball that will be the first thing squished if the plane has to ditch.
It’s a performance of compact, comical fury packed into a movie that cost what they wasted on the “Wonder Woman 1984” avocado toast catering, a little B-movie that could, headed by a pint-sized badass with “Grace” as her middle name.
MPA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references and violence
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Bryan Coll, Benedict Wall, Callan Mulvey and Joe Witkowski.
Credits: Directed by Roseanne Liang, script by Max Landis, Roseanne Liang. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:23