Netflix dropping a trailer for the latest "Cloverfield" movie in the middle of Sunday's Super Bowl appeared to be business as usual. After all, most of the year's big-budget blockbusters debuted splashy new footage during the big event. But when that ad promised the movie would be available to watch immediately after the game? That felt like something different.
That gutsy bit of marketing instantly -- and rather ingeniously -- gave a renewed sense of life to the troubled release. "The Cloverfield Paradox" was originally set to be released by Paramount, but after getting cold feet the studio unexpectedly sold off rights to the streaming service. So on one hand, Netflix's decision could be seen as in keeping with the "Cloverfield" series' M.O. of secrecy and surprise. On the other, it seems to be a clear case of a distributor trying to make the best of a film that had already been dumped by one studio.
"The Cloverfield Paradox" began life as a little sci-fi thriller called "God Particle," but similarly to 2016's "10 Cloverfield Lane," the film ended up being retrofitted to fit into the "Cloverfield" universe. This process of reverse-engineering orphaned genre films into a loosely connected franchise ended up turning out something pretty wonderful with "10 Cloverfield Lane," so the method clearly can work. But the results are less successful here, delivering the least of the three "Cloverfield" films by a pretty wide margin.
Directed by Julius Onah, the story follows the international crew of the Cloverfield Space Station -- portrayed by a great cast, including David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Zhang Ziyi, and Chris O'Dowd, each playing exactly the type of role you'd expect them to. With the world on the brink of chaos, the team has spent more than a year attempting to harness a new power source to solve Earth's devastating energy crisis. But their experiments involving a massive particle accelerator end up knocking the crew into an alternate dimension, and that's when things start to go a little nutty.
"The Cloverfield Paradox" doesn't set out to break new ground: it's reminiscent of just about any space station-set thriller, from "Alien" to "Sunshine" or "Event Horizon." It's a silly, pulpy genre picture, with plot holes a mile wide, but it's at least well-acted and capably directed.
The film delivers some nice "WTF" moments, but by the time things start to go haywire, it hasn't bothered to establish any concrete rules for its universe. When pretty much anything could happen at any given moment, it's impossible for any tension to build up. And with nothing to tie its set pieces together, there's no momentum, which ends up making the elements that were clearly added to turn the film into a "Cloverfield" movie stick out all the more.
Watching the film at home on a streaming service only adds to the production's direct-to-video feel. But in a way, that actually help thing -- taken on its own terms as a high-concept B-movie, it's perfectly serviceable sci-fi entertainment. Holding more interest for its place in the industry's continuing efforts to shake up the traditional film distribution model, "The Cloverfield Paradox" seems destined to be more of a footnote in the history of Netflix's evolution.