Combine The Hangover with IT geeks, then throw in some aliens and Paranormal Activity, sprinkle it with the budget of a YouTube video series and you have what I imagine were the hopes and dreams for Unidentified. It sounds like a winning formula for a film that would at least be fun and entertaining, if not intelligent, but the blend doesn’t quite work.
Much like The Hangover, the film introduces three friends and a fourth guy who gets forced into the group. The outcast is Jodie, a video blogger with aspirations of becoming a YouTube superstar. His boss, Jeremy, picks him up for the big trip to Vegas, and Jodie insists on filming the adventure. Next we meet Nick, whose wife, Janelle, also happens to be Jodie’s sister. We quickly learn that Jodie’s inclusion in the trip is Janelle’s idea, as is the plan to film the entire trip.
Lastly we have Dave, who takes a $10,000 loan in Vegas to get Nick into a high stakes poker game. What follows is half-a-film’s worth of Vegas gambling, debauchery, and overall silliness set to some found-footage camerawork. Where Unidentified excels is in the interactions of these four guys. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the loose camerawork, but the group comes off as legitimate guy friends, with all the stupidity that includes.
Where Unidentified goes wrong is by trying to reign that in with a focused plot. Every time the plot rears its ugly head the flow of the dialogue and character interactions seems to break down. Each new twist feels forced. At about halfway through it becomes a different film entirely.
Unidentified is a great premise, with great potential in its cast of characters, but as the sci-fi twist came plowing in I wished for some more subtlety. The film should have taken a page from Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, which expertly built from a typical day among friends to a zombie apocalypse, shoot ’em up, and alien invasion. Here the aliens show up suddenly and completely derail the plot.
Even the style of the film changes gears from something of a comedy into a typical found footage film. The crew run and scream and get spooked by random noises, then things get extra crazy and nonsensical in the grand finale. It follows the hallmarks of the genre that Paranormal Activity built to a T — it’s too bad we’ve already seen more than enough of those.
I really do wish Unidentified focused on its strengths. The cast, the little touches of YouTube viral humor, and the basic premise/setting have a lot going for them, but it doesn’t come together. In fact, it almost feels like two separate movies.
On the bright side, the film goes so far off the deep end before the credits roll that you probably won’t regret watching the whole thing. I’ve pulled far worse films off of the discount DVD shelves. They usually leave me wondering why they exist at all. Unidentified has a lot of the right parts, it just doesn’t assemble them in a very satisfying way. If you can’t get enough of the found footage genre (and I know many people still can’t), it’s worth a watch for the fun bits and the crazy finale. Everyone else may want to rewatch Mars Attacks for their “aliens on the Vegas strip” fix.