DARK SKIES: 3.5 STARS

When the Chordettes sang, “Mister Sandman, send me a dream,” in their 1954 hit song, it’s doubtful they imagined the kind of dreams -- nightmares, really -- the Sandman would bring little innocent Sammy in the sci fi thriller “Dark Skies.”

The Barett’s, mom Lacy (Keri Russell), dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and kids Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sammy (Kadan Rockett), are a typical suburban family until strange things start happening around the house. Sammy has weird dreams about the Sandman, all the family pictures disappear form their frames, sleepwalking becomes a nightly occurrence and someone -- or something -- builds a sculpture in the kitchen that looks like “a mathematician’s idea of a geometry joke.”

As the odd incidents continue, Lacy and Daniel have conversations about what to do. “That is so weird,” he says. “It’s more than weird,” she replies, wide eyed.

Weird, yes. After hundreds of birds crash land into their house, Lacy tries to get to the bottom of their problems by googling a list of their problems. The search leads her to a site called Skywatcher report.com, run by ET expert Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons). He explains that aliens are here -- they are a fact of life, “like death and taxes. They study us, do experiments on us.” The best you can do, he says, is try to fight them off.

“Dark Skies” is the “Anti-War of the Worlds.” There’s no mass little green man hysteria, just the concentrated horror of one family tormented by visitors from outer space.

The alien quotient is low. You really only see them in shadows or in “Paranormal Activity” style surveillance footage. Instead of rampant aliens the movie is a slow burn look at the breakdown of a family, troubled by forces they cannot control.

That part of the movie is effective, as is a shot of Jesse, flushed with the excitement of his first kiss riding his bicycle home with a giant grin plastered on his freshly smooched lips. Those moments work well, but as usual in a movie that tries to marry real family situations with the supernatural or alien happenings, I never completely buy in at how fast characters ditch rational thought and jump on board with the most outlandish answer possible to their problems.

When the doctor who examines Jesse after one of his incidents says there’s no neurological damage, the Internet conspiracy nut must be right, right? “Could it be the government testing some new, secret weapon,” suggests Lacy before adding, “or could it be something not from here?”

I know irrational times occasionally lead to irrational thought -- just ask the guy who tried to sell the Hulk Hogan sex tape -- but I had a hard time believing that this family would take advice from an apartment-bound UFO nut before consulting with medical and government officials.

But that’s just me. If you want to get past the leaps of logic you’ll be left with a competently made thriller with some scares and loads of good atmosphere.

 

SNITCH: 2.5 STARS

“Snitch” boils down America’s War on Drugs to a family drama, focusing on one muscle-bound man’s determination to wrestle a deal from a hard-nosed U.S. attorney and free his son from jail.

The Rock…er… Dwayne Johnson is John Matthews, owner of a successful construction company and estranged father to Jason (Rafi Gavron). Jason falls into a Kafka-esque legal loophole when his drug-dealing best friend implicates him as a trafficker in return for a break on jail time. Under America’s strict War on Drugs laws Jason is facing a mandatory ten-year sentence unless he gives up the name of a co-conspirator, but because he’s innocent he has no one to snitch on. Enter John who gets the action underway when he asks the U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon), “What if I do it for him? What if I help you make arrests?” Cue the cage match between The Rock and assorted drug dealers (including “The Wire’s” Omar, Michael Kenneth Williams).

Snitch isn’t a bad movie, but it is a miscast one. As charismatic as Johnson is, his physicality gets in the way here. The character is a determined regular Joe; a father willing to go to any lengths to help his son, but how much more effective would this story have been if he didn’t resemble a cop who could crash the drug dealers he’s working with between his muscular thumb and forefinger?

Imagine the part played by an actor who doesn’t look like a superhero. As someone whose fatherly instincts kick in when his son is at risk and you’d have a believable core to the story. While John’s concern for his son seems genuine enough, with his shaved head, goatee and bulging muscles Johnson is a bit too much of a mountain of a man to pull off the meek act he tries with the drug dealers. Looking like The Rock works against him here.

“Snitch” is a hybrid of message film and thriller. The message is a bit muddled, but the idea seems to be that the War on Drugs needs to find a new plan of attack. Maybe if there’s a sequel Johnson could play a general in the War on Drugs. Dress him up like a soldier and send him off to hunt down cartel kingpins. Now that’s a part I could see him playing.