Nope Review: Jordan Peele Stages An Absolute Spectacle With His Scary, Funny Sci-Fi Blockbuster

Jordan Peele's creepy, funny, wildly enjoyable sci-fi mystery pic "Nope" opens with a quote from the Bible: "I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle." That final word, spectacle, is the key to the puzzle Peele is assembling here. For all its sci-fi trappings and Spielbergian crowd-pleasing beats, "Nope" is all about spectacle — and trying to capture that spectacle in some form. In many ways, this is a movie about making movies — but we're not talking about making big, studio-backed blockbusters. "Nope" focuses on getting a rag-tag crew of would-bes and has-beens together to try to capture the impossible; to create, in some ways, movie magic. 

This is Peele's third film, and while not as groundbreaking as "Get Out" or as dense and layered as "Us," "Nope" is Peele's most assured, confident film yet. It is proof — if we even needed it at this point — that Peele is the real deal; a young filmmaker with a remarkable grasp of his craft, operating on a whole other level. Here, Peele has (mostly) done away with the constant twists and turns of his previous two films to craft a more straightforward narrative — but there are still plenty of surprises in store. I've seen more than a few people complain that the "Nope" trailers give too much away. Trust me on this — they don't. There's a world of unpredictability here, and wherever you think this might be going, you're bound to be slightly off the mark. 

Peele also breaks out some of his best filmmaking to date. Working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Peele plays around with style and form here, making magnificent use of IMAX cameras to show off wide open plains and even wider open skies. It feels cliche to say "You gotta see this on the big screen!" these days, but "Nope" should be experienced on the biggest screen possible to appreciate the dizzying, vertigo-inducing vastness of the skies overhead. Peele also gets creative when it comes to staging horrific moments — there are two particularly grisly, ghastly scenes here that the filmmaker renders in such a way that we don't exactly see what's happening, but — with more than a little help from impeccable sound design — we feel it, on a visceral, uneasy level. 

What's a bad miracle

OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) runs his family's horse ranch out in California. Haywood's Hollywood Horses rents out horses to the movies, and is the only Black-owned horse ranch in the world of showbiz. OJ's father Otis (Keith David) used to run the place, but six months ago, Otis died in a freak accident when several bits of debris fell from the sky over the ranch. The authorities chalk the strange event up to a private plane leaking detritus overhead, but OJ is not so sure. 

OJ is quiet, reserved, tight-lipped. His sister Emerald (a phenomenal, hilarious Keke Palmer) is the complete opposite — outspoken, confrontational, a little immature, and searching for something that will catapult her into fame and fortune. And she just might have found it, as a whole bunch of mysterious, inexplicable things begin happening around the ranch, which is secluded deep in the hills and free of prying eyes. The siblings become convinced a UFO is lurking nearby, and they realize that if they can capture it on film — clearly, in HD, unlike so many other fuzzy, blurry UFO videos — they'll strike it rich. But they have to get a good shot, the perfect shot — the "Oprah shot," as Emerald calls it. They enlist the help of lonely tech guy Angel (Brandon Perea, genuinely charming in a bit of a star-making turn) to help set up their fancy cameras, but capturing the "Oprah shot" will be harder than they thought. Perhaps they can get more help, in the form of a craggy, growly cinematographer with the perfect name of Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott). 

Meanwhile, nearby, Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun), the owner of a Western-themed amusement park, is ready to unveil something big. He promises his crowd an "absolute spectacle," and there's that word again. Ricky is a former child actor and appeared on a sitcom called "Gordy's House." Gordy was a real live chimp who co-starred on the series, and during the filming of season 2, something terrible happened. Something unspeakable. Something that was, indeed, a spectacle — for all the wrong reasons. How all these characters fit together, in the end, will be up to you to discover, but Peele has done a wonderful job assembling his ensemble. Kaluuya, with his sturdy, monotone, dryly funny performance, makes a hell of a lead, while everyone around him is delivering the goods. Palmer will likely get the most attention, as her role is big and scene-stealing. But Wincott is wonderful as the crusty cinematographer, and Yeun perfects an unsettling, dead-eyed stare as the theme-park owner who is still dreaming of recapturing his childhood stardom. 

Absolute spectacle

Those hoping for something as layered as Peele's previous two movies might be surprised at how straightforward the filmmaker plays things with "Nope," but that's part of the fun. This is Peele in summer blockbuster mode, trafficking in the same sort of spectacle-based filmmaking that Steven Spielberg perfected so early in his career. Peele is able to create one thrilling, scary scene after another, and he balances it all out with moment after moment of laugh-out-loud comedy. This is the filmmaker's funniest film yet, and Kaluuya garners huge laughs with his understated performance — a moment where he says "Nope," after seeing something terrifying overhead, and then locks the door of the car he's sitting in, is immensely amusing. As is a later scene when Wincott's miserable cinematographer realizes he can get a better — and potentially deadly shot — if he waits until that time of day DOP's like to call "magic hour."

The spirit of getting the shot prevails throughout "Nope," creating a kind of meta-commentary while also giving the audience something to root for. Because we like these characters, we both want them to survive their ordeal, and succeed in their scheme. It's hard not to root for a team of underdogs hoping to make it big, to break into a world that they're usually excluded from. They have many chances to pack up and leave to save themselves, but OJ is insistent they stay. He wants to keep his family ranch, and perhaps more than that, he wants that Oprah shot, because he knows sooner or later, someone else will come and get it and try to claim it as their own. 

"Nope" may not be Jordan Peele's best movie to date, but it is his most enjoyable. A true summer movie spectacle meant to be writ large across the screen, giving us thrills, chills, laughs, and that most precious of things: movie magic. 

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10