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Trapped at 10 Cloverfield Lane

To answer your first question, this film has little in common with Cloverfield, despite the involvement of producer J.J. Abrams and others connected with that inventive and genuinely frightening film. For one thing, this is not a “found footage” movie, but a thriller with horror and science-fiction elements. But it does have its fair share of scary moments and an eminently workable premise.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead has just broken up with her boyfriend and is driving away into the countryside when she’s involved in a catastrophic car crash. When she awakens, she’s in a cinder-block bunker with an IV in her arm. The man who rescued her, John Goodman, turns out to be her captor. He is a survivalist who has prepared this underground shelter for the doomsday he has always foreseen and now, he says, it has arrived. Winstead isn’t the only one imprisoned there: a young man who helped build the bunker (John Gallagher, Jr.) is also on hand.

Naturally, Winstead wants to escape, but what if Goodman is telling the truth and there has been an attack that has poisoned the air outside?

John Goodman-10 Cloverfield Lane-680

Photo by Michele K. Short – Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

In his debut feature, director Dan Trachtenberg plays all his cards right, building tension through a series of thriller tropes, some of them bordering on  cliché but still pretty effective. His strongest asset is John Goodman, an actor who brings nuance and humor to what could be a stock character. This is no ordinary villain or goon; you never know what to expect from him, and as always he’s a pleasure to watch. Winstead and Gallagher bring conviction and credibility to their roles, as well.

But 10 Cloverfield Lane becomes repetitive at a certain point, even though it still has some surprises in store. I found myself losing interest, so the finale (which is reminiscent of Cloverfield) doesn’t have the impact it should. As a piece of popcorn entertainment it’s not bad, but it spends too much time on much-too-familiar ground.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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