All movie fans are allowed — even expected — to have some “so dumb but I love it” pet favorites. For about fifteen minutes, I really thought 65 was going to enter that revered territory. I was nodding like Jack Nicholson. And then the fun stuff just kind of… stops. The film settles into a dull survival thriller. But, man, the opening premise is wonderfully juicy and nonsensical, the kind of faux-cerebral silliness you’d slur to a friend at a bar after three drinks.
Here’s the pitch: In the far future, a space pilot named Mills (Adam Driver) lives with his wife and his sick daughter. He signs up for a mercenary mission to get money to care for his dying daughter. Unfortunately, the mission goes wrong when the ship crash lands on a strange planet. But… drumroll… the planet he crashes on is actually Earth! And it’s not the far future, it’s 65 million years ago, so Mills must battle dinosaurs to survive. Worse yet, he’s landed mere days before the extinction asteroid hits Earth, so he needs to figure a way off the planet, and fast.
It simply begs for a twisty story filled with Planet of the Apes-type mindfuckery. Maybe some time travel or prophecy shenanigans. Use your imagination. That’s exactly the opposite of what 65 delivers. Instead, the movie rapidly becomes a generic, low-plot action blockbuster. Driver connects with another survivor of the crash, a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), and must care for her. This sort of mirrors his guilt about leaving his sick daughter behind, but not in any especially meaningful way.
The movie is constituted mostly of Adam Driver falling down and grunting, interspersed with attacks from mediocre CGI dinosaurs who almost eat one of Mills or Koa before getting shot just before the dino’s jaw clamps down. Half of the film is shot in inscrutable, ugly darkness. The other half of 65 is shot in luscious, wooded greens. Those segments set in daylight and in nature — actually shot on location in Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana — are fairly pleasant to sit through. They have the texture of an excellent adventure movie, if not the excitement. There’s some goopy quicksand and tree-dodging chases. Unfortunately no vine swing.
It’s polished for moments at a time. Every now and then there’s an idea or a promising scene that sticks around for one or two minutes. Adam Driver isn’t the worst possible candidate to spend this movie with; he brings some intensity. But he’s much better at being a weirdo who has napalm chemistry with other actors rather than an isolated grumpy dad.
And Danny Elfman’s score, while pretty generic for most of its runtime, had a few moments that made me take notice. Elfman is far past his peak, but you could do worse for injecting some rousing energy into the film.
But the big picture for 65 is just how disinterested writers-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods actually are in its high concept except as a vehicle to get Adam Driver shooting dinosaurs. It had all the ingredients to go galaxy brain, but none of the ambition, and that makes me sad.