Sunday, August 29, 2004

Code 46

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2004 at Loews Copley Place #3 (first-run)

I wish Code 46 were a better movie. Granted, I wish that for most bad movies, but when a science fiction film does something right that is more often than not done poorly or not at all, it would be nice if something (anything) in the rest of the movie was to the same standard.

I liked the way Code 46 seemed to be set in a believably evolved future. All too often, the future in a sci-fi movie is basically the present, with one bit of new technology added. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce does better here, even peppering banal everyday conversations with bits that seem alien or incomprehensible to the present-day audience. Despite the long written bit of exposition on what a "Code 46" is at the beginning, other features of the future world aren't so carefully explained. It seems to be a given that most children are conceived via artificial insemination, and may not be genetically related to the parents who raise them. The landscape outside every city shown is arid desert, from Shanghai to Seattle. And it's relatively common for skills and abilities to be implanted via virus.

So, the movie's got that going for it. Unfortunately, apparently the most interesting story Boyce could find to tell in that future world was a tepid romance between William (Tim Robbins), an "intuitive investigator", and Maria (Samantha Morton), one of the factory workers he is brought to Shanghai to question. That he lies to protect her (and apparently doom someone else to life outside the city walls) at first seems inexplicable, although a connection forms between the characters, if not necessarily the actors.

Obviously, all that stuff we saw during the opening about how a Code 46 violation infolves a relationship between people with at least a 25% genetic relationship (which is generally what one has with siblings) is going to be important. That's where the movie becomes, for lack of a more descriptive term, icky. I can see the idea that having genetic material being randomly distributed in the way this future world posits would lead to a lot more inadvertant relationship between people whose DNA comes from the same source, but when the characters opt to pursue it despite all that, who do you root for? By the end, the movie practically has one thinking that the secretive "Sphinx" organization - which appears to be run like a corporation while functioning as a de facto world government - is the most reasonable group of people in the movie. And as I've said before, I don't like being put in the position of having to feel that the guys who erase memories and implant thoughts and compulsions are the good guys.

Director Michael Winterbottom opts to go the Gattaca route visually, for the most part, although the streets of Shanghai aren't quite so slick and antiseptic as the world of Andrew Niccol's movie. The movie appears to be shot primarily in locations with odd enough architecture to suggest a sort of sleek future aesthetic. The constant identity verifications also might remind one of Gattaca. And while Code 46 is in some ways more ambitious in its ideas than Gattaca - Code 46 offers a more complicated set of moral quandries than the simple desire to for self-determination even if one is considered genetically inferior - none of the people have the passion displayed by Niccol's characters. Code 46 never cracks its world's austerity to get at the primal thoughts that would drive the story.

It's a nice try, I suppose, and it hurts me to speak ill of a science fiction movie that has ambition beyond being an action movie with laser guns, but the end result is pretty disappointing.

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