Thin story sets off small-town chaos
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.
PEG PRICKETT (Anna Camp) defends her N.J. town amid a radio news report of an alien attack.