The first sign that things are about to go drastically wrong is that of Michael Pearce.Meetis a rattle. A small whirr, really, the kind a regular man in a regular motel might not notice. Ahmed Rice‘s Malik Khan is no ordinary man – the intense actor has built his career on large-scale alarmists, wannabes and losers, the kind of tired-eyed guy who lies awake in their bed awaiting their awakening morning – so the former Marine not only hears the buzz, he takes action. With military precision, he grabs a Bible from the bedside table and – splat! – crush a wasp.
An insect down. There are ten quintillions left.
No one else at the motel is on high alert for an unusually aggressive infestation. Information still unknown from Malik is that not so long ago a small meteorite hit the earth. This was ignored by everyone except a few barking dogs. But a parasite on that meteorite infected a cricket, which then infected a praying mantis, which then infected an entire forest of buggers before the news could make a bad pun on Beetlemania.
Except that this is not a show where a terrible disaster comes up against worse punchlines. “Encounter,” co-written by Pearce and Joe Barton, is a smaller-scale disaster film: Ahmed’s divorced father kidnapping his young sons Jay and Bobby (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada, both natural and formidable ) away from their mother (Janina Gavankar) who acted suspiciously and led them to a secure military base before the rest of America embarked on Raid.
It’s a road movie where Malik encourages his children to let go while he keeps the windows up. He both protects their innocence, selling their escape as “a crazy road trip with your cool daddy!” and disappointed to learn that they prefer KPOP to heavy metal. A symptom, he thinks, of them growing up without enough of his macho bro-tacular influence. So he uses machismo to keep them in line, promising elementary students that if they follow his rules, he’ll reward them with candy (sweet!) And free use of his gun (okay?).
Malik is the rare action daddy brand that focuses on protecting his children’s bodies, not their souls, the only other notable being Tom Cruise in “War of the Worlds” who yelled at his teenage son for having tried to help strangers. At first, Malik’s flaws are refreshing – invigorating, even – in a genre defined by action dads like The Rock trying to have it all: strength, jokes, heart, audience devotion as if The Rock had to be their dream daddy. , too much. Ahmed lets Malik laugh – he insists on calling his kids “man” – but he and Pearce want to make a realistic adventure film, not some dizzying popcorn muncher. So even though Malik behaves like he could have a dubbed body in “San Andreas” or “Skyscraper,” his badass act cracks to reveal a more unstable man. Someone more human than a hero – and someone you might not want by your side unless you’re sure you’re fighting the same.
The children are hungrier. Their smiles begin to wear off. And there’s the continual threat that an ignorant cop might stop the car and not gently take Malik’s itch to see if there are worms wriggling in his retinas.
The truth is, every movie is an act of trust that isn’t much different from Malik telling the boys they’re going to play a game called “Get in the car as fast as you can”. We in the audience put ourselves in the back while the director takes the wheel. We believe what they tell us to believe: that the Rock can save the planet, that a romantic comedy couple will live happily ever after, that Godzilla is 300 meters tall. This is not a bad thing. Films are, in essence, a shared illusion. But in an age of downright incredulous gullibility where shared delusions leap from the screen to your aunt’s Facebook page, and gullibility is literally contagious, “Encounter” insists that skepticism is a virtue. (And that empathy is a powerful antidote.)
Alas, this latest post is pushed to a climax by Octavia Spencer in one of her recent ungrateful assistant roles where she wears sane shoes and struggles to get someone else in the movie to hear her advice. She’s too vibrant to continue being sidelined in those mealy little parts, and each time the film cuts Malik and his boys cruising past the desert views of cinematographer Benjamin Kracun (his camera is roughly the most stable thing in this slippery film), it reminds us that the film is just above average, not brilliant. There is a small, savage detour that involves a rural militia.
Once “Encounter” reveals its destination, there aren’t many places to go for the storyline, although there is a small, savage detour into a rural militia during which it becomes clearer than this actor’s showcase from Ahmed is also interested in touring the american psyche, a place where, as Malik puts it, “people look normal but they’re not.”
An Amazon Studios version, “Encounter” is now available in select theaters and will be available to stream on Prime Video at a later date.
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