Review: Jordan Peele's 'Nope' is almost as frustrating as it is entertaining

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea in Nope, written and directed by Jordan Peele. (Photo: Universal)

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rated: R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images.

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Studio Synopsis: Residents in a lonely gulch of inland California who bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.

Review: Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) runs a ranch that supplies horses for Hollywood productions. He looks to his son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and daughter Emerald (Keke Palmer) to take over the business when he passes. His death comes unexpectedly in a bizarre accident. A bizarre incident that is quickly dismissed as something mundane.

But is it? And what does this story have to do with the opening scene of a blood-covered chimpanzee standing over a lifeless body?

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“Nope” feels like an extension of Peele’s revived “The Twilight Zone.” The good and the bad. It’s primarily a science fiction thriller with a few horror and Spaghetti Western flourishes. Peele’s biting sense of comedy is also on full display. Many of his barbs are directed at the entertainment industry via OJ, filmmaker Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) and Ricky 'Jupe' Park (Steven Yeun) a once-famous child actor with who runs a smalltown amusement park with a western theme. Through OJ and Ricky, Peele also explores the psyche of two men who are living in the past.

There’s a lot going on in “Nope.” Maybe too much. With a runtime of 130 minutes, the film feels a bit unfocused and scattered. The narrative would probably be better if there was either more or less of Ricky. I’d be tempted to give Ricky his own film. The most horrific aspects of the story belong to him. Alternatively, you could cut Antlers, the filmmaker, altogether. Brandon Perea’s tech-savvy Angel Torres feels bit unexplored. I don’t know that he needs to be.

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There are also moments that feel incredibly important to the characters, but don’t make much sense to me as an audience member. It is as if Peele oscillates between being too complex and overly simplistic. It frequently doesn't answer the "why" something is and I find that incredibly distracting. Is there an allegory I’m missing? Maybe. But if there is, abandoning logic for the sake of allegory feels like a step too far. I'm happy to suspend disbelief, but the universe that “Nope” takes place doesn’t always make enough sense. It's just making up its rules as it goes along. Maybe "Nope" is just intended to be big, nonsensical fun. Maybe I'm wrong for believing it aspires to be more than that.

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Performances are strong with Palmer and Kaluuya carrying the bulk of the narrative while the other characters slip in and out of the story. Yeun gets two great scenes and Jacob Kim, who plays the younger version of Ricky, also has an unforgettable moment.

“Nope” is packed with interesting ideas and a few incredibly effective scenes. It’s certainly entertaining, but I’m not convinced that it tells a completely coherent story.

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