Thin story sets off small-town chaos

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - — Katie Walsh

In “Brave New Jersey,” writer-di­rec­tor Jody Lam­bert and co-writer Michael Dowl­ing imag­ine the go­ing­son of fic­tional Lul­laby, N.J., on the night of Or­son Welles’ in­fa­mous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broad­cast.

The small dra­mas of the towns­folk are thrown into stark re­lief when what sounds like a ra­dio news re­port an­nounces that Mar­tians will soon be land­ing on Earth. Mar­riages are torn apart, en­gage­ments are ques­tioned, and fer­vor of all kinds (re­li­gious, ro­man­tic, mil­i­tary) takes ahold; only two kids re­main skep­ti­cal.

Lam­bert has as­sem­bled a fan­tas­tic cast, in­clud­ing Tony Hale, Heather Burns, Anna Camp and Dan Bakkedahl as the res­i­dents of Lul­laby, but the whole af­fair looks and feels like a bud­get cos­tume drama — there’s not much to in­spire pe­riod-spe­cific au­then­tic­ity.

And while “Brave New Jersey” ex­plores the ways in which this apoc­a­lyp­tic news in­spires every­one to take a close look at them­selves and their life choices in the face of im­pend­ing doom, it feels un­fo­cused. Why not deep­dive on the con­nec­tion that de­vel­ops un­der the starry sky be­tween Hale’s Clark and Burns’ Lor­raine? The en­gage­ment that plucky Peg (Camp) calls off when she sees how her fi­ance, Chardy (Matt Oberg), re­sponds to cri­sis? Or ex­plore the cultish re­li­gious mad­ness that fer­ments af­ter the Rev. Rogers (Bakkedahl) is hit with a fly­ing saucer in his church?

In­stead, the story is spread too thin, or per­haps there just wasn’t that much sub­stance to be­gin with. “Brave New Jersey.” Not rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 26 min­utes. Play­ing: Laemmle Mon­ica Film Center, Santa Mon­ica.

Grav­i­tas Ven­tures

PEG PRICKETT (Anna Camp) de­fends her N.J. town amid a ra­dio news re­port of an alien at­tack.

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