TYLER WILSON: Netflix’s messy ‘Cloverfield’ surprise

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In its continuing effort to control the entertainment universe, Netflix unleashed one of its biggest acquisitions mere hours after a Super Bowl commercial officially announced its existence.

“The Cloverfield Paradox,” the anticipated third installment in the loosely threaded science fiction franchise that began with 2008’s “Cloverfield,” was purchased by Netflix from Paramount Pictures only a few days ago. Up until Sunday, nobody really knew what Netflix planned to do with it.

Anyone following this pseudo movie universe knew a third installment would be arriving sometime this year. Much like 2016’s “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the new film began as an original script before a production team led by J.J. Abrams recalibrated a few things to fit the movie into the franchise mythology.

“Paradox” began as a movie called “God Particle,” and Paramount, the studio behind the previous two “Cloverfield” films, planned on releasing the film theatrically this coming April (after a few well-publicized delays). When news of Netflix acquiring the movie broke last month, the working title had been “Cloverfield Station,” though the streaming company never said anything official until the Super Bowl commercial.

It was an ingenious stunt on the part of Netflix. To most, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a complete surprise — a major blockbuster dropped into your lap.

Given the quality of the movie itself, Netflix handled this in the best possible way. Because waiting just a couple of hours to see “The Cloverfield Paradox” basically for free makes the movie’s mediocrity so much more tolerable.

The film follows astronauts on a space station in the near future experimenting with a massive particle accelerator in order to create a sustainable energy source for a dying Earth. When the accelerator finally works, the station is seemingly shot into space, far away from home, and some very strange things begin happening to the crew.

Without diving too much into its own crazy science, “Paradox” becomes a film about alternate dimensions colliding into each other. A few of these “collisions” result in some tense moments aboard the space station, and the cast, led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl and Chris O’Dowd, work extremely hard to sell some especially clunky dialogue.

The space stuff works fine, mostly because it never lingers too long on any thread of escalating ridiculousness. The “Cloverfield” subplot, however, drags the movie to a halt. It follows Michael (Roger Davies), the husband of the astronaut played by Mbatha-Raw, who must deal with some familiar terror back on Earth.

This Earth-set material reeks of reshoots — content made long after the original production in order to give the movie more of a “Cloverfield” vibe. It might answer a few questions about how the movies connect, or it might not; I don’t think the filmmakers know for sure either way.

“Cloverfield Paradox,” directed by Julius Onah and written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, might have been an interesting premise at its inception. For whatever reason, Paramount saw a need to insert “Cloverfield” into the movie in order to improve its financial outlook. While that worked well for “10 Cloverfield Lane” (easily the franchise high-water mark), “Paradox” lacks that film’s character development and tight plotting.

Paramount obviously knew the movie would be crushed in a theatrical release. Dropping it on Netflix saved them millions in marketing costs alone. Netflix, on the other hand, probably doesn’t care if people end up disliking the movie. “Paradox” served its purpose by being a surprise release announced during the most-watched telecast of the year.

Regardless of this film’s shortcomings, the “Cloverfield” brand will continue. A fourth film has already been shot, about supernatural forces during World War II, and Paramount still plans to release it theatrically this October. But keep checking your queue — it might be on Netflix already!

•••

Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com

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