Absolon (2003)

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When you start recognising the landmarks that low-budget movies are filmed around (either Canada or Eastern Europe), it’s a good sign that you’re perhaps wasting your life. And that’s sadly how I felt when giving yet another post-fame Christopher Lambert movie a try – a potentially interesting dystopia ruined by a lack of anyone seeming to give a damn.

 

Incompetence is handy, in a way. If you see it early on, you know you can mentally check out, start thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, pay attention to the cat that’s climbing all over you, that sort of thing. So, right at the beginning of this movie, when we get both a text info-dump and then, immediately afterwards, a guy narrating the plot to his grandson, you’re all “ah, they’ve had to do all this to explain this garbage, it’s going to suck”. But in case you’re not sure, or you’re one of those innocent fools who insists on giving a movie a fair crack of the whip, here goes.

 

After environmental disaster, a virus hidden underneath the rain forests is set loose, and wipes out more than three-quarters of the world’s population. Some scientist guy invents Absolon, the drug that holds back the virus’s progress, but needs to be taken every day and the UPC corporation controls the drug. Plus, we don’t have money any more but time – Lambert’s character Detective Norman Scott says he only earns 500 hours a week – which seems somewhere on the pointless/confusing axis; although if you’re a primacy junkie, you could note that the Justin Timberlake movie “In Time” used the same concept several years later, only they bothered to make it work.

"Well...that was disappointing"

“Well…that was disappointing”

Some other scientist guy (I think, although it might have been the same one) has managed to invent a complete cure, and naturally UPC aren’t thrilled with this, so boss guy Ron Perlman sends agents from the World Justice Department to kill him. He hides the disk with the important information, under his desk in an envelope which luckily the bad guys don’t think to look for, and for reasons too tedious to go into Scott and his team only have three days to crack the code on the disk, find the antidote and start producing it. Scientist guy’s old assistant Dr Claire Whittaker (Kelly Brook) helps Scott out, and the two of them go on the run, with the cops helping them and the WJD trying to kill them.

 

Along with a few twists and turns, that’s pretty much it for the plot. The thing I like about conspiracy movies like this is how quaint they seem in the post-Wikileaks world. While our governments haven’t tried anything quite this evil on us yet, all they’d need to do would be to claim the scientists were socialists, or Islamic sympathisers, and gangs of thugs would do their work for them and no-one would take the antidote, even if it were free. That they go to such lengths to suppress it, and are so absolutely terrible at hiding their global conspiracy, is like a relic of a far simpler age. There’s secret handoffs of documents, sneaking “clean” phones to your partner, all that Cold War-looking stuff.

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“Absolon” is awful, of course. Lambert was clearly coasting at this point in his career, and looks washed out; him being the love interest of Kelly Brook, 22 years younger than him and (to be fair) way way out of his league, is worse even than the Hollywood standard. This is Brook’s first push into the US market, as this was from roughly the same time she was doing her recurring role on “Smallville”, leaving her days of TV presenting in the UK behind. It was the start of a decade or so of small roles on film and short recurring roles on TV, and from here she certainly got better at acting, although not too much admittedly. Talking of odd acting, Lou Diamond Phillips and Ron Perlman clearly realised what sort of movie they were in quite early on and just chewed scenery and shouted randomly – plus, I’d lay good odds on Perlman only being paid for a day or two, as he shares basically no screen time with the rest of the cast and does his entire part from one office. Lambert’s cop sidekick Ruth (Roberta Angelica) looks like a reject from some mid 90s rave movie, all wild hair and with the crop-top / ultra-baggy trousers combo.

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Even ignoring the problems that come from this being a cheap TV movie (budget, filming schedule) it’s no good. A script which feels like it sat in a cupboard for 20 years from a scriptwriter who made a weirdly large number of Christopher Lambert movies, a director who should stick to the storyboarding where he seems to have most of his credits, and a cast who seem unsure why they were all brought together.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Supernova (2000)

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“Supernova” is one of that rare breed of movies where the stories surrounding its creation are more interesting than the movie itself. Wait, don’t stop reading yet! I’ll give you all the most fun stories, continue my admiration of James Spader and bang on about hard sci-fi for a while. What more do you want from a review?

Up to the late 90s, “Alan Smithee” was the name the Directors Guild of America used when a director wanted his name taken off a movie for whatever reason. After 1997’s “An Alan Smithee Film”, the name became too well-known so the pseudonym was changed to “Thomas Lee”, and the first film it was ever used on was this. All this is down to director Walter Hill (“The Warriors”, “48 Hours”, producer of the “Alien” franchise), and ongoing problems with the head of United Artists, whose pet script he rewrote; UA hired a guy to re-edit Hill’s footage, and that tested terribly; they asked Hill to come back, and he only agreed on the proviso he be allowed to do $5 million worth of reshoots and special effects. They refused, and he walked again; then Francis Ford Coppola, at the time a board member at MGM (UA’s partners), spent $1 million on yet another re-edit; this tested terribly as well; then a final edit became the actual released version of the movie, a movie which currently sits at 10% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Although its history started with a pitch for “Dead Star”, which would’ve resembled “Hellraiser” in outer space, then briefly became “Dead Calm” in outer space, the version of “Supernova” we now enjoy is about a medical ship in deep space. James Spader is co-pilot Nick Vanzant, and we’ve also got Robert Forster as the captain, Angela Bassett as the medical officer, and Lou Diamond Philips and Robin Tunney as the engineers. Not a bad cast, really (although a shade light on super-star power for a $90 million film, excepting Spader, who we love).

After receiving a distress call from a far-distant ice mine, the “Nightingale 229” has to do a dimensional jump to get there, and as this messes with your molecules in a slightly more aggressive and risky way than Star Trek’s transporter or warp drive (it seems like a weird mix of both) Forster is left as a red soup at the other end, and an asteroid belt damages the ship. They have an 11 minute gap between them recharging their engines in 17 hours time and the nearby star sucking them into its gravity well and killing them all, and this is all complicated when an emergency vessel comes up from the planet’s surface, with…a passenger who’s apparently the son of Angela Bassett’s ex-boyfriend? Described as the evilest man in the universe (the dad, not the son).

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This is all pretty exciting to this point. It just starts falling apart almost immediately, and there’s been so many cooks in this particular broth it’s impossible to know which one of them messed it up. Spader’s a recovering drug addict, and Bassett seems to take over the ship, yet a few scenes later she defers to him as captain, and his drug addiction plays no part in the movie whatsoever. The “son” (Peter Facinelli, better known these days as the head of the vampire family in the “Twilight” movies) is so obviously a bad lad that you keep expecting them to twist it, only they never do. He talks about travelling to see his father after a sudden aneurysm made him sick, but sudden aneurysms kill you, especially when you’re billions of miles from the nearest medical facility…and the qualified doctor on board doesn’t spot this. Robin Tunney, despite being in a serious relationship with Lou Diamond Philips, almost immediately has sex with Facinelli, despite him being the sleaziest evilest douchebag…and then there’s the glowing thing.

The glowing thing is actually a pretty interesting idea (I’ll try and avoid spoiling everything, although the title of the movie is a bit of a giveaway) but the problem is the timescale. All the twists and turns and activity of the plot basically occurs in that 17 hour period, and I just don’t buy it, and I’m sure at least one of the edits of the movie doesn’t buy it either. It feels like it’s got too many competing ideas to fit into 90 minutes, and it feels weird to say this about any movie, but it would have benefited from being a good half hour longer.

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For such a short movie, there was a lot of sex in it (including what is rumoured to be a colour-shifted Robin Tunney standing in for Angela Bassett) and way too many dropped plot threads. The end-game of the movie isn’t really mentioned til about 15 minutes before the end, too…I’m not sure any of the multiple edits could have fixed this. I’m honestly not sure if anything could have done. Facinelli being way less broad in the beginning would have helped; the computer being much more or much less of a character, too; and them fleshing out just one or two ideas (what was the deal with pregnancy, anyway?) would have helped immeasurably. More Spader, too. He’s great, and Facinelli isn’t, a fact which isn’t reflected in the relevant screentime for the both of them.

Not quite as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but a wasted opportunity to make a really interesting “proper” sci-fi film with deep-space ships and mining colonies and completely alien concepts like the glowing thing.

Rating: thumbs down