IMDB says... A man wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president's daughter from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates.
The 73rd Virgin says... Unnecessarily bad.
I'm an unashamed Guy Pearce fan-boy. He has been great in a dozen roles from transvestite (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) to ambitious cop (L.A. Confidential) to creepily innocent murderer (Memento) to fatherly squad leader (Hurt Locker, for about 10 minutes) to diffident former cannibal (The Road, for about 5 minutes). It's hard to find good clips on YouTube for some reason.
Anyway, I had already read Ebert's 2½ star review of this so I went in with eyes wide open. But I was looking forward to seeing Pearce transition from the effete, prissy King Edward in “The King's Speech” to a Bruce Willis-style role. My wife feeling roughly the same, we decided to see this in a theater and buck the Hunger Games mania.
The presence of Luc Besson as the producer offered some encouragement as well. I wasn't expecting anything as outlandishly good as “The Fifth Element”, but I was expecting a reasonable effort at production design, story line and editing.
We begin with helpful subtitles telling us we are in Washington D.C. in 2079. Police helicopters look like something out of The Matrix but cell phones, subways, escalators all look pretty much like today. The opening chase scene is on a vaguely futuristic motorcycle that apparently goes so fast we can't even focus on it but Pearce, as CIA operative “Snow”, can talk on the phone while he drives it. The movie then carefully provides subtitled names of every damn person in the CIA or Secret Service or whatever. And that's okay. I'm thinking well maybe they're winking at me as they poke fun at a whole genre of movies that use this kind of shorthand to establish a crisp pace to nowhere. But soon enough I realize it's really a case of “I Am Become Genre, The Destroyer Of Movies” and this isn't gonna get any better.
The plot involves Snow, falsely accused of murdering his boss, being prepared for shipment to a high orbit prison that keeps it's prisoners in “stasis” or some kind of cryosleep. At the same time the President's daughter (yep, President's daughter) has traveled up there, with a contingent of exactly two Secret Service agents – in space – on a prison ship – to investigate how prisoners are treated. Predictably - and that's okay, too - a prisoner takes over, takes her hostage and releases roughly 500 prisoners who begin killing guards, wardens, etc.
But we never see more than about a dozen prisoners actually DOING anything. Every now and then a group will conveniently run down a corridor when the plot needs a chase. Otherwise the editing and plot progress are so haphazard that one never gets a feeling of space or distance or numbers or anything. There are three, count-em, three countdowns. One involves a bomb with a timer (no idea why it needs a timer - it wasn't dropped with the intention of giving anyone time to escape), one involves how soon the prison ship will crash into "the eastern seaboard" after rather randomly being struck by the International Space Station (no countdown for THAT, however), and best of all a spoken countdown of how long it will take a character to die from oxygen deprivation; like "25 seconds", "20 seconds!", "5 seconds!". That's just egregious.
And Snow is the one man who can rescue the president's daughter. Maggie Grace and Pearce have very little observable chemistry, although that's really more about the script's lame attempts at banter and repartee. I hope he got some serious coin for this. He does his cocksure and world weary line readings perfectly well and manages to be funny here and there, but Grace's lines are no better than any of the plucky blondes in a hundred Van Damme or Chuck Norris movies. It's really just about that bad. I knew what I was in for, but even at that I'm a little shocked. It comes dangerously close to one sheep, but....
After suitable prayer and fasting and a sweat lodge, I will seek redemption at The Hunger Games.