No sooner does Alex (Jack Gore), an awkward, insecure kid grieving for his late father, start summer camp at 'Rim of the World' alongside intimidating mystery girl Zhen-Zhen (Miya Cech), obnoxious rich boy Darius (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and goodhearted delinquent Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto) when the world is suddenly invaded by aliens! Instead of learning to canoe and climb rope the kids end up on the run from terrifying space monsters. When a scientist entrusts Alex with a key carrying the secret to stop the invasion he and the other kids must conquer their fears, band together and save the world.
With Rim of the World Netflix seemingly set out to replicate the formula that served them so well in their mega-hit show Stranger Things: kids, sci-fi, monsters and a 1980s aesthetic. The space monsters certainly resemble the creatures from Stranger Things but the film also lifts plot motifs and visual cues from the likes of Space Camp (1986), Explorers (1985) and, inevitably for this subgenre, The Goonies (1985). It wants to convey an old fashioned sense of giddy adventure with a heart-warming message celebrating friendship and emotional maturation yet is undone at every turn by insincerity and crassness. A non-stop barrage of crude sexual references, relentless sarcasm and cringe-worthy attempts at ironic humour are at odds with its sporadic attempts at Spielbergian wonder.
Given screenwriter Zach Stentz has a relative form with X-Men: First Class (2011), Thor (2011) and Agent Cody Banks (2003) it is tempting to lay the blame with director McG whose own track record leaves him a less than ideal choice to helm a children's film. Nevertheless many of the film’s problems stem from its script. Specifically the characterization of its child heroes. With the exception of anxiety-ridden Alex and likable Gabriel, the kids are abrasive wiseasses liable to grate on most viewers’ nerves. Lone black kid Darius is an especially appalling caricature whose crude antics seem there solely to justify the film's delight in humiliating him at every opportunity. McG handles the action sequences capably enough, often via immersive P.O.V. sequences that prove surprisingly effective. But the film has a strange way of undermining its own attempts at staging suspenseful or emotionally engaging scenes. At one point it lifts the 'raptors in the kitchen' sequence from Jurassic Park only to then bizarrely evoke a famous scene from the other big Steven Spielberg film from 1993 Schindler's List of all things when the kids hide from the alien inside a shit-caked latrine. Scenes like that coupled with tasteless Rosa Parks and 9/11 jokes, references to Werner Herzog (kids love Herzog, right?) and lame attempts at breaking the fourth wall (two camp counsellors ponder why they talk like black characters in a movie made by white folks) leave the viewer wondering just what kind of audience is this film for?
It is all the more unfortunate given the second half proves more interesting. Things take an interesting turn when Alex and the other kids debate whether or not to free a prison inmate left behind by police. There is also a Breakfast Club like scene where each of the kids share their personal pain leading to a fairly clever climax wherein each must face their own anxieties in order play their part in stopping the alien threat. Unfortunately up to this point the film plays things with such a cynical tongue in cheek that its would-be tear-jerking pathos falls flat.
American director whose flashy promo work for bands like Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray led him to helm 2000s big-screen update Charlie's Angels and its 2003 sequel, along with a blockbusting Terminator sequel. This Means War was an expensive flop, and 3 Days to Kill did not quite revitalise Kevin Costner's stardom. Also worked on the trashy TV show Fastlane. Real name Joseph McGinty Nichol.