Take my alcoholic girlfriend... please.
Colossal begins as a variation on the musty Henny Youngman line, crossed with a self-consciously wacky riff on the genre known in Japanese as daikaiju ("big strange beast"). But the premise can't sustain a nearly two-hour movie, so writer-director Nacho Vigalondo adds more twists, designed not only to keep the plot moving but also to partly exonerate Gloria, its heroine.
Gloria is fundamentally nice. (She has to be; she's played by Anne Hathaway, who rarely does mean.) But when she acts out, she really acts out.
Heading home sloshed after a long night at a bar, Gloria wanders into a playground that functions like a portal from Monsters, Inc. Her arrival there activates the appearance in Seoul of a massive lizard-like creature that apes the American woman's every move. (Why not Tokyo? It may have something to do with a lawsuit filed by Toho, the studio that owns Godzilla.)
Gloria's drunken clumsiness, which threatens nothing more than the grass on her side of the planet, translates into death and destruction in South Korea. Yes, anonymous foreign people die when Gloria's reptilian alter ego rampages. Some might find tasteless this blithe acceptance of collateral damage in a movie that's basically a comedy. But it's no more crass than the notion that a woman's moodiness is a force as destructive as Mothra.
At least Colossal's central character is female, a shift from Vigalondo's high-concept, low-budget debut, Timecrimes. In that murderous sci-fi farce, a woman's role is only to be abused.
When the mashed-up fable begins, Gloria is an unemployed Manhattanite whose job search involves networking — with other booze-happy layabouts. Her fed-up boyfriend (Dan Stevens) shows her the door, so Gloria retreats to her unidentified and undistinguished hometown, where the family abode just happens to be empty.
She hasn't been there in years, but one former acquaintance has been measuring her absence in minutes. Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) comes on like an old buddy, offering Gloria a job at the worst possible place: his bar. Soon she's serving as well as sampling the goods, and hanging out well after closing time with Oscar and his friends (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell). None of them could be termed self-motivated.
Then Oscar begins to reveal his stalker tendencies, control-freakishness, and incendiary jealousy. He's intermittently helpful after Gloria divulges that she has a bizarre connection to the chaos in Korea. But that information also gives him power over her, which he's entirely willing to exploit. Dramatically, there's one upside to this personality adjustment: The smugness that characterizes all of Sudeikis' performances now seems appropriate.
Where Timecrimes was tightly coiled, Colossal sprawls and stumbles. After exhausting the possibilities of Gloria's Korean secret sharer, Vigalondo introduces another daikaiju character and lumbers to a showdown. The longer the movie runs, the more its novelty fades. The tone wavers, and plot holes that appeared small at the halfway point start looking like chasms.
The makings of a political satire are here: Unthinking American behavior can damage other parts of the world. But Vigalondo doesn't develop that theme, perhaps because he doesn't wish to risk the likability of the biggest star he's ever employed.
It's also possible that Vigalondo doesn't pursue socio-political commentary because he's just having too much fun playing with CGI monsters and cityscapes. There's a bratty-child vibe to Colossal, and it stems as much from the script's limited attention span as from its immature characters.