Fri, Jul 04, 2003 - Page 20 News List

A film without a future

Emotions caused World War III, so they have been banned -- a silly premise for a retarded sci-fi movie

By Elvis Mitchell  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Equilibrium trawls the depths of sci-fi moviedom.

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL

In Equilibrium, which takes place in the not too distant future, emotion has been outlawed. But some things are still the same; the Cadillac STS is still available (though masking tape is applied to hide its markings). And it is driven by a new breed of law-enforcement officer called -- and please don't laugh until I finish this -- Grammaton Cleric, assigned to squash the sense crimes of what could be called the emotion underground.

The Clerics -- who are all men, so women are even more repressed -- practice a particularly nasty martial and handgun art called Gunkata. In the near future, I guess, bullets are neither deadly nor photogenic enough to accomplish the job.

One of these men, John Preston (Christian Bale), is at the center of Equilibrium, a ridiculous sci-fi action melodrama and breath mint. If someone left 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Gattaca and the Sylvester Stallone potboilers Judge Dredd and Demolition Man out in the sun and threw the runny glop onto a movie screen, it would still be a better picture than Equilibrium, a movie that could be stupider only if it were longer.

Emotion, it seems, caused a third world war. To prevent a fourth, feelings have been made illegal, done away with by a drug called Prozium, which citizens administer to themselves daily. Based on the slender, concave shape of faces of the future, Prozium is as effective a weight-loss tool as those sandwiches at Subway.

The slender, sleek Preston has repressed everything about himself, including Bale's English accent. He has the mid-Atlantic vowels of one of the DJ's at a Virgin megastore. Devoted and loyal in carrying out the orders of the government, Preston stumbles into the underground when it turns out that one of them was (gasp) right next to him -- his own Cleric partner, whom he executes.

Film Notes

EQUILIBRIUM

Directed by: Kurt Wimmer

Starring: Christian Bale (John Preston), Emily Watson (Mary O'Brien), Taye Diggs (Brandt), Angus MacFadyen (Dupont), Sean Bean (Partridge), Matthew Harbour (Robbie Preston) and William Fichtner (Jurgen)

Running time: 100 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


His confidence shaken because he thought himself intuitive enough to know what was going on in the mind of any man, Preston is given an ambitious and perhaps even more empathetic young partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs, whose cheekbones are even more beautiful than Bale's). And there are further fissures in Preston's resolve; his wife was also executed for sense crimes, leaving him a widower with two young children.

When he starts to have, um, feelings for the beautiful underground member (Emily Watson) he has just arrested, a question arises: Will Preston forsake the road before him for the pursuit of real, live emotion?

Equilibrium is pretty silly stuff. The writer and director, Kurt Wimmer, has obviously made a movie where independent thought has been banished, since the whole picture looks like Ridley Scott's Orwellian Apple commercial from 1984. I'm as up as anyone for a well-staged action sequence, but the punches thrown here make the movie look as if it was based on a video game.

The Clerics' fascist chic wardrobe and their Gunkata will probably have the makers of The Matrix scouring every frame for copyright infringement. The true sleaziness comes after Preston beats a brace of fellow cops to their bloody, picturesque deaths to protect a puppy from execution. Just when you think Equilibrium can't sink any lower, the movie slaughters shame, too.

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