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Colossal Review

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Colossal poster

"Colossal" is a colossal splitter, destined to divide audiences into "What the hell?!" and "What the hell?! I like it!" camps. But of course there's a third camp, right in between. And I'm in it.

The movie, a little less wild than it sounds, stars Anne Hathaway as a woman facing an even more fearsome dilemma than her up-the-nostrils close-ups in "Les Miserables." Occasionally employed New York City freelance writer Gloria, played by Hathaway, stumbles home from another night of drunken, half-remembered revelry. Her live-in boyfriend (Dan Stevens) has had it with her antics, and has packed her stuff. She heads back to her hometown and her conveniently empty parents' house, with a vague idea of getting her act together before taking it back on the road of her life.

Straight off she runs into her old pal Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis, who clearly has been nursing a crush on Gloria for the better part of the years since elementary school. He gives her a job at his bar. After a late night with her new partners in alcohol (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell play Oscar's regulars), Gloria stumbles onto a playground at a park, goofs around and falls down, giggling.

Meantime, on the other side of the world: A massive Godzilla-like kaiju is terrorizing Seoul. Somehow, according to "Colossal," that plus-sized destructive lizard is Gloria's avatar; when Hathaway's character enters the mysterious magical sandbox at the park, her stumblebum actions bring that monster to life.

From "King Kong" to the original, atomic age "Godzilla" onward, monster movies are metaphors unleashed. With "Colossal," writer-director Nacho Vigalondo treats Gloria's personal demons (alcohol, controlling and/or sinister men) as an opportunity for symbolic expression on a grandly fantastic scale. With a few trims the film could be entirely different and blandly realistic -- messed-up protagonist returns to hometown for a bittersweet spiritual cleanse; we've seen a few indies along those lines, for sure, even if you don't include "Garden State."

But "Colossal" wants more. Vigalondo opens with a prologue introducing the marauding lizard of Seoul, so we know it's there, embedded in the narrative, waiting for a return. Vigalondo is equally interested in what lies beneath Oscar's seemingly good-guy facade. As his relationship with Gloria becomes infected with jealousy, long-simmering rage and general bad vibes, his own avatar enters the sandbox ring.

This is Vigalondo's fourth feature, and it shares some strengths with his first, the 2007 time-loop fantasy "Timecrimes." A small group of characters; a poker-faced approach to a ridiculous scenario; a protagonist internally at war; these are the building blocks of "Colossal." Hathaway is slyly funny and clearly pleased to be returning to a ground-level project along the lines of "Rachel Getting Married" (with different sorts of monsters). Sudeikis is effectively steely, though I keep waiting to be truly surprised by a single moment in a Sudeikis performance.

On some level I prefer my kaiju to mix it up with larger concerns and anxieties than two ordinary people's problems. Then again, this weird marriage of indie earnestness and matter-of-fact fantasy gives "Colossal" its moderately engaging distinction.

MPAA rating: R (for language).

Running time: 1:50

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