Cast: Jack Gore, Alessio Scalzotto, Miya Cech, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Watch Rim of the World online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Oh my God, it’s Independence Day!” “It’s June.” That’s the sound of an alien invasion disrupting the summer plans of four kids, as their camp is turned into an interplanetary war zone. And that superbly written line sets the stage for a playful, witty remix of blockbuster tropes and pop culture references. It’s a shame, then, that most of Rim of the World doesn’t continue in the same groove.
Our window onto the camp is Alex (Jack Gore), a geeky outsider with a tragic family backstory. Shepherded to the camp by his protective mother, he’s a fish out of water with a fear of heights and fire – and it’s only a matter of time until he will have to face both to try and save the world from an extra-terrestrial threat. Before the alien hits the fan, he crosses paths with Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto), a mysterious bad boy who doesn’t have a head for numbers, ZhenZhen (Miya Cech), a quiet, solitary arrival from Shanghai, and Dariush (Benjamin Flores Jr.), a rich kid with an ego the size of his parents’ bank balance. An unlikely bunch who are far from friends, they’re forced to work together and overcome any differences to prevent total global destruction. After all, it’s not like the adults can be relied upon.
It’s the kind of premise that nostalgic movie dreams are made of, taking us back to the heady days of 1980s Amblin fare. In the era of Stranger Things, though, it’s a recipe for older viewers as well as new, young sci-fi fans, and it’s in the balance between those audiences that Rim of the World loses its edge: on the one hand, it’s a shameless ride back into conventions gone by, with simple yet satisfying character arcs that force its youngsters to confront their issues in the middle of action sequences; on the other hand, it’s a film full of swearing and talk about sex, in which alien body parts are inserted in characters’ mouths for no apparent reason.
Visually, there’s energy to match the ambition, even if the Big Bad Alien on display is a tad generic. Director McG is clearly enjoying himself by dropping in nods to every favourite genre film from the last 30 years – a Jurassic Parkian kitchen scene, Predator-like infra-red vision, Terminatory car chases, a Goonies-esque MacGuffin and more are thrown up in the air like an excited popcorn machine. The cast enthusiastically tackle every set piece sent their way, right down to a video game-like climax in a control centre. But the script can’t work out how to present each of them; former Vine star King Bach, playing camp guide Logan, introduces the ensemble with a fast-talking banter that feels improvised, but that borderline inappropriate humour paves a way to unnatural dialogue featuring jokes about Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man – the kind of thing that teenagers wouldn’t say and teenage audiences won’t get. The majority of this is given to Dariush, who’s positioned throughout as the loud comic relief, but the arc of ZhenZhen also feels a little too reductive to really work, even as a romantic link between her and Alex tries to develop both characters.
Despite flashes of charm and a likeable cast, the result is frustratingly uneven and consistently unsuitable for younger viewers, even though parents will be tempted to sit down for some wholesome family genre fun. For that, we recommend Robot Overlords, or for something that skews older, Attack the Block. Rim of the World’s heart is in the right place, but its foot is sadly in its mouth. For all its promise, this isn’t Independence Day.
Rim of the World is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.