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NOPE: 3 ½ STARS. “sheer size and spectacle of “Nope” are powerful.”

The trailer for “Nope,” the new alien abduction film from thriller auteur Jordan Peele, now playing in theatres, is one of the rare promos that gives next-to-nothing away about the plot. It’s meant to pique curiosity, to open your mind to the possibility of… well, almost anything.

The movie exists on the edge of possibility. It’s possible to see it simply as a good-time-at-the-movies UFO flick, but if you’re looking for more, Peele adds layers of subtext to the slow burn story, commenting on Hollywood, corralling nature and the belief in something bigger than yourself.

Set in current day, just outside of Los Angeles, “Nope” sees O.J. and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) carry on the family business after the death of their father (Keith David). Descended from the Bahamian jockey who was the first person to be filmed riding a horse, they run Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, a ranch that supplies livestock to film and television shows. “Since the moment pictures could move,” says Emerald, “we’ve had skin in the game.”

Business is slow, and just as O.J. considers selling some of their horses to a local pioneer village style theme park owned by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (“The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun), strange things happen at the ranch. Some kind of disturbance in the force has caused electrical blackouts, weird weather and put the horses on edge. There’s also a cloud that hasn’t moved for months.

When O.J. spots something in the sky, something he says was “too fast to be a plane,” Emerald hatches a plan to film the airspace around the ranch to capture film of a UFO. “The money shot,” she says. “Undeniable. The Oprah shot.”

They set up surveillance cameras, and, working with tech support guy (and UFO evangelist) Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and gravelly-voiced cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), they attempt to lure the mysterious craft—which resembles a giant sand dollar—to their elaborate trap and get “the impossible shot.”

“What we’re doing is going to do some good,” says Angel, “besides the money and the fame. We can save some lives.”

Like Peele’s other films, “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” has jump scares and disturbing images but this isn’t a horror film. It’s a sci fi movie that explores the fear of the unknown by way of Hollywood Westerns—it pays tribute to the doorway shot at the end of “The Searchers”—monster flicks, and of course iconic Steven Spielberg sci fi films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” These homages are lovingly assembled to create something fresh, but students of film will have a hoot dissecting the movie’s visual influences and Peele’s obvious love of the form.

Just as there are myriad visual inspirations, Peele has jam packed the film with ever-shifting thematic and plot elements. The straight-ahead alien showdown is prefaced by story threads and flashbacks that don’t always feel like they’re forwarding the story. A TV chimpanzee-gone-wild sequence, for instance, while kinda cool if it was part of another movie, is a bit of a head scratcher.

Having said that, the sheer size and spectacle of “Nope” are powerful. There are only a handful of characters, but their journeys are broad and there are unexpected twists and turns. It’s an ambitious movie that feels less focused than Peele’s other films, but nonetheless, “Nope” earns a Yup.

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