The giant monster movie hits Manhattan with Cloverfield, the horror flick produced by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) and director Matt Reeves. This movie doesn't break new ground but does deliver plenty of scares and a few nervous chuckles along the way.

The movie, told entirely from the point-of-view of a handheld video camera, opens with a going-away party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who's heading to Japan to start a new job. Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) are in their Manhattan apartment to wish him well, and Jason quickly passes on the video camera on to Hud (T.J. Miller), Rob's "best bud." Hud is obsessed with the pretty and brooding Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) and the drama comes when Beth (Odette Yustmas), who Rob has a crush on, comes with a date and leaves after she and Rob have a fight. Then there's what feels like an earthquake, several buildings explode, and the Statue of Liberty's head comes flying down the street. And glimpses of a giant creature make everyone panic.

During the evacuation over the Brooklyn Bridge, Rob gets a cell phone message from Beth that she's injured, dying and scared -- so he decides to head back to rescue her, and he's joined by Hud (still filming) and his friends. So these friends head against the tide of people fleeing the city in search of Beth. Unfortunately chaos reigns, there's the ever-present danger from the giant monster (and numerous smaller spider-like critters), and the friends start dying off at a fairly quick rate.

Cloverfield is mostly horror fluff -- pretty damn downbeat horror fluff -- that's done well. The actors do a decent enough job, but their role in the movie consists almost entirely of screaming, running, crying, then running some more. There are plenty of scary moments, and the decision to show only part of the creature until the movie's end keeps the level of suspense high. The friends' quest takes them from soldier-filled streets of Manhattan to abandoned sunway tunnels to a nerve-wracking trip from a standing apartment building over to the one that collapsed against it. The handheld camera technique gives a feeling of immediacy to the action (though folks who felt nauseous from the camerawork of The Blair Witch Project won't fare well at all here) and its light and night-vision options come into play at critical scenes in the movie. There's no grand message or overall theme, but Cloverfield provides an entertaining afternoon with some high-quality scares.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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