Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: OPERATION AVALANCHE: How Can a NASA Conspiracy Be This Boring? [Sundance 2016]

Matt Johnson Owen Williams Operation Avalanche 

Operation Avalanche (2016) Film Review from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Matt Johnson, starring Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, and Ray James.

To say that Operation Avalanche was underwhelming is, at best, an understatement. The obnoxious intro of the film by director/star Matt Johnson and star Owen Williams should’ve been taken as a clear sign.

Set in 1967 in the midst of the Cold War and the space race, a KGB mole is suspected to have infiltrated NASA in a bid to gain intelligence that would allow the Russians to be the first to walk the moon. Fresh off a project, two CIA agents (conveniently named Matt and Owen) from the agency’s A/V department pitch a plan to NASA heads: under the guise of filming a faux documentary, allow us (“who really have no idea what’s going on”) to take up residence at NASA headquarters in Houston, with the chance to catch the mole on camera. Soon after arriving, however, Matt and Owen find themselves in the middle of a “moonie” conspiracy that could have deadly costs.

Filmed in the tired and nauseating “shaky cam” trend, the film itself takes on a documentary-like feel, full of grainy, full-screen images resembling old-school film. Combined with an admittedly impressive production design, the technique does add a sense of nostalgia.

The elephant in the theater while viewing the film was it’s jarring, uneven tone; while irritatingly and misleadingly teased as a thriller, the film is as thrilling as sitting next to a “manspreader” on public transportation: it’s uncomfortable, it makes you queasy, and all you want to do is get out of there! The film is really a failed attempt at a Christopher Guest-like comedy; though, unlike Christopher Guest, Matt Johnson clearly doesn’t have what it takes to make the audience laugh. I can think of nothing more embarrassing than a movie that is trying so hard to be funny and is only painfully and pathetically not so. It’s forced, it’s awkward, it’s all over the place… not good. To then mix in a couple of truly thrilling scenes makes you wonder what kind of film Johnson really desired to make.

Not only that, but the conspiracy theory presented in the film leaves too many unanswered questions; time is wasted on tired, boring gags rather than fleshing out conspiracy details. As a result, it feels like nothing more than a film student and his best friend squandering a great studio opportunity. Ouch.

If I were the executive at Lionsgate that commissioned this film back in 2014, I would be worried about my job after such a disappointing debut.

Operation Avalanche is screening at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in the competitive NEXT category and was acquired for distribution by Lionsgate in 2014.

Rating: 3/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

  • Chris Corsi

    Haven’t seen this movie yet but I’m going to go ahead and disregard this entire review. Even without seeing the movie I can for sure say that your Christopher Guest comparison is completely irrelevant. If you’re searching for a really deep moon landing conspiracy movie this director is probably not the guy to go to (I highly doubt that was his intention with this film in the first place). Your blurb shows a clear unfamiliarity with this actor/director’s style in terms of storytelling and comedy and as well a lack of understanding of how it is complemented by Jared Raab’s cinematography.

  • Drew Stelter

    I look forward to an updated opinion after you have viewed the film, Chris. Thank you for commenting.

  • Drew Stelter

    Indiewire just posted their review, and they also highlighted a Christopher Guest comparison, saying it’s as if “Dr. Strangelove had been directed by Christopher Guest.”

    Irrelevant? You read it here first.

  • Chris Corsi

    So you’re using another opinion as proof that your opinion is correct.

  • Chris Corsi

    Me commenting on this is much less about my opinion on the film itself and mostly about how if you’re reviewing someone’s work you should probably do your homework for a little context so it’s not so clear that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Most importantly if you think that Matt Johnson is incapable of producing laughs you may want to consider writing about films other than comedy. The guy has a cult following and just got signed to do the second season of his web show for viceland so perhaps he’s doing something right. 5 MONTHS LATER AND I STILL HATE YOUR OPINION.

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