Combustible Celluloid
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With: Guy Pearce, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Travis Fimmel, Ned Dennehy, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Colin Salmon, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Jonathan Aris, Olwen Fouéré, Jorin Cooke, Maggie Cronin
Written by: Bryan Edward Hill
Directed by: Andrew Baird
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language, some drug use and nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/03/2021

Zone 414 (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Superficial Intelligence

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This good-looking sci-fi thriller has some fun set designs, but it also borrows liberally from Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Westworld without adding any new themes or interesting characters.

Ex-police-turned-private detective David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is seen shooting a woman, and then removing some kind of robotic hardware from her skull. This was a test to see if he's right for a certain job. Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), who grew excessively wealthy by creating lifelike robots, needs David to enter "Zone 414" — a special city designed by Veidt where humans and robots can interact freely — and find his missing daughter, Melissa.

There, he meets Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), an android who has begun to develop her own feelings. She agrees to help David find Melissa if David will help her; she has been receiving threatening messages from an anonymous stalker. What they discover together is most unexpected.

The David Carmichael character is right out of old hard-boiled detective novels, without much added, and Pearce plays him with one note, kind of an annoyed, impatient grimace. And Fimmel gives an odd performance while slathered in puffy age makeup. Meanwhile, Lutz can't quite intuit where to draw the line between Jane's android body and her developing emotions, and her character comes across as just lost. Zone 414 tries to engineer an emotional connection between the two characters, and fails.

Aside from its handful of interesting sets — Jane's vast apartment, decorated with creepy busts and a crashed chandelier — and intriguing locations (a boatyard?), the movie doesn't really establish what Zone 414 is actually like, how one gets there, where it is, how big it is, or what goes on behind the scenes. Time seems different, too. After David spends the night on Jane's couch, the next scene takes place... at night. (What did they do all day?) Not long after that, it's dawn again.

Many of the problems of Zone 414 are no doubt due to a low budget, but other devices, like twitching surveillance footage, suggest a lack of inventiveness as well. This story has been told many times before, and much better.

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