***/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, J.K. Simmons
written and directed by Scott Stewart
by Bill Chambers Dark Skies takes place in the days leading up to the Fourth of July. The movie thus promises fireworks--and it delivers, albeit on a modest scale befitting its humble suburban milieu. Like Signs, it's such an insular take on the alien-visitation genre it could almost be performed on the stage; unlike Signs, it's not pious to a fault (surprisingly, given that writer-director Scott Stewart previously made Legion and Priest), and its lapses in logic aren't as maddening because they're built into the film's very ethos, with a Whitley Streiber type (lent unexpected pathos by a Hunter S. Thompson-dressed J.K. Simmons) opining late in the proceedings that aliens are unfathomable to us in the same way that humans are unfathomable to lab rats. There are a lot of superficial similarities to Signs, actually, such as the way the picture uses asthma and walkie-talkie devices as narrative keystones and its climactic transformation of the family home into a fortress. For that matter, Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are liberally paraphrased as well; over three films, Stewart has shown himself to be nothing if not a magpie artist. The good news, which would normally be upsetting news, is that the producers of Dark Skies are Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who seem to rein in Stewart's other bad habits, like snail's pacing and a tendency towards arcane mythology. Third time's the charm.