‘The 5th Wave’
J Blakeson
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

“The 5th Wave” opens with its willowy hero (Chloe Grace Moretz) accidentally killing an unarmed man. Will this be the dark YA movie? Or will it be the “dark” YA movie — the one that starts like a teen take on “The Road” (but with aliens!) yet quickly retreats into the safety of chaste romances, scary (but sometimes hot and shirtless) inhuman beings and, most charitably of all, slumming master thespians earning their summer homes? 

RELATED: You'll have to wait a little longer to see "Star Wars: Episode VIII"

The answer comes quickly, right when Moretz’s breathy yammering fills the token narration track, catching us up to speed with the set-up and her feels. Moretz’s Cassie is a survivor of a knock-off “Independence Day” attack, complete with cut-rate super-tidal waves that takes out the London Bridge and a Generic American Coastal City. Armed with a Wayne LaPierre-approved assault weapon, Cassie has watched as her parents died, as did her bestie — but, hey, who’s that hunky, resourceful, slightly older guy (Alex Roe) who chops wood and bathes in lakes? Meanwhile a former classmate/crush (Nick Robinson) finds himself recruited into a kid army led by Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello (looking very ’80s Bond villainess). Their broadly telegraphed ulterior motives are apparently supposed to be a third act twist.

The tone, as to be expected, is dreary and humorless, and wannabe-tough. The director, J Blakeson, once made a tough movie himself: “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” which was calm and pitiless right up until the point where it should (and did) turn soft. He asserts himself during its expository first act, then bits here and there. But the genre demands he make the rest of it soft. Moretz, for once, is a problem. The talented actress gives one of the hammiest face performances since Alfred Abel’s notorious work in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”: freaky-eyed, ever-panting and in a permanent state of near tears. (On the other side of the spectrum, “It Follows”’ Maika Monroe pops up as an eyeliner-stained “tough chick” who at least is never tamed by moony romance.)

RELATED: Is Zac Efron secretly a good actor?

The film itself is fragile in another way. As it soldiers on to its big non-reveal and a distractingly rushed climax, it becomes clear this was a troubled production that couldn’t even coherently set up its requisite love triangle. Hippie-deep observations (maybe genocidal aliens and earth-conquering humans aren’t that different, if you think about it?) are tossed off with such little enthusiasm a baggie of Vicodin may have been involved. 

Not that the source material doesn’t have its own problems. Trauma becomes fodder for Cassie’s diary entries, which wind up clandestinely read by one of her suitors. He’s just another dreamy sociopath a la Christian Grey, there to program young women into become submissives lusting for controlling monsters with great abs. No amount of “hard PG-13” atrocities and leftfield homages to John Carpenter’s “They Live” — plus a truly non-sequitur shout-out to Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” — can save a film that, in trying to be more than a YA movie, becomes one of the worst.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge