Brave New Jersey’s retelling of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds phenomenon from the point of view of a small town is a throwback through and through. Direct Jody Lambert has captured the wholesomeness and storytelling of 1980s-era film in a way that is comforting and maybe even healing.
Usually, the bumbling mayor, the jerky businessman, his overly demure wife, and the crazy war vet would be boring stereotypes, but here they’re reassuring, like slipping into a warm bath, mainly due to how well they are portrayed by a truly ensemble cast that knows how to live into the trope and push through to the pathos that lies on the other side.
If there’s a lead character, it’s mayor Clark Hill (Tony Hale), a true native of Lullaby, New Jersey, having lived his entire life inside its charming environs. He’s a little too nice and helpful, which means he gets walked all over by local entrepreneur Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger) in his quest to make the town famous for its newly installed mechanical milking machine. Yes, really. Paul’s wife Lorraine (Heather Burns) also falls under his overbearing sway. Meanwhile, she and the mayor get along famously. This is all telegraphed from the beginning and fleshed out as the action takes hold, but like most of the movie, it is perfect execution that lets the audience forget that it is being told a fairly straightforward story.
Once news starts to spread about the supposed alien invasion, several characters take the opportunity to break out of their shells. Peg (goes from being a school teacher happy to be newly engaged to leading the charge in preparing to fight the alien horde. World War I vet Captain Ambrose P. Collins (Raymond J. Barry) finally leaves his hermitic existence and takes on organizing the “troops.” Most interesting is the local clergyman, Reverend Ray (Dan Bakkedahl) who starts the film as maybe the least spirit-filled person in town but ends up harnessing some serious spiritual fervor as he comes to believe there’s something very special about the visiting Martians.
There’s a nice cast of kids that get their own journey through this encounter, as well as plenty of quirky townspeople to help the more prominent protagonists face conflict, hardship, and eventually joy. Brave New Jersey presents a family-friendly tale of love and adventure that never talks down to the audience despite the ease of relating to the material. This film would not be out of place in the four-plexes of yesterday, but will go down just right with modern audiences, too.