Colossal Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
Rare indeed is the premise so inspired that it’s nearly impossible to screw up, but Colossal, the latest oddball effort from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial), somehow mostly works despite being a complete mess. Even a simple plot summary is insane: Having returned to the sleepy town where she grew up, in a half-hearted effort to get her life together, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) gradually realizes that whenever she sets foot in a particular playground at 8:05 a.m., a Godzilla-like monster appears in downtown Seoul, precisely replicating every move she makes. What’s more, the same thing happens when her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), steps into the playground, except that he manifests in Seoul as a Transformers-style robot. Soon, their petty personal differences are destroying buildings and even killing innocent people thousands of miles away—a situation made more toxic still by Gloria’s tendency to get blackout drunk and Oscar’s jealous anger at her lack of romantic interest in him.
Unlike, say, Charlie Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame), Vigalondo isn’t disciplined enough to fashion something intellectually coherent from crazed absurdism. Colossal never quite decides whether it’s about the unwitting havoc caused by an alcoholic or the toxic behavior of a closet misogynist, and it veers uncertainly between goofy comedy and genuine ugliness. Furthermore, placing the giant avatars in another country suggests barbed commentary on collateral damage caused by American foreign policy—rich potential that the movie ignores. None of that matters much, however, when Gloria and Oscar’s ludicrous playground spats are playing out as a crappy Michael Bay movie on worldwide news broadcasts. Even at its most muddled, Colossal taps into the universal secret conviction that one’s most trivial actions and emotions are somehow world-consequential. More thematic rigor might have made it great, but anything less than amusing simply wasn’t an option.