Thursday, January 14, 2016

Circuitry Man

  It took me quite a while to get my hands on this one after reading about it on a list of forgotten and underrated sci-fi films. The wait was worth it because as much as it's forgotten, Circuitry Man is also criminally underrated. It's not your conventional post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick as it's focus really isn't on action scenes or anything. It's more of a crime thriller/road trip movie set against a vividly science fiction backdrop. There's parts that remind me of an old school on-the-run noir flick where the protagonists are trying to escape with a bunch of diamonds or something and the mob is after them. Well, same thing here pretty much except instead of diamonds... we have computer chips.

  Because, in this world, certain computer chips are the ultimate narcotic for people who have 'plugs' in their head. Direct access to the brain, or something. The concept is pretty interesting to be honest, and it lends itself to some freaky looking imagery, thanks to Vernon Wells as the main villain- "Plughead". Needing neither goon nor gun, all he really needs is a bag of plugs and wires and he can wreak a whole hell of a lot of havoc. He's certainly a vibrant character and makes for a great bad guy. On the flip side, our main protagonist is Lori, a bodyguard-for-hire, played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson who has to team up with a pleasure bot, bio-android, named Danner to safely get a case of stolen chips to New York where she can sell em, and start a new life for herself.

  It's a very simple premise, but it's effective. Visually, the movie can be dry at times. It's far from the colorful, neon lit, post-apoc worlds I'm used to seeing in old, low budget, DTV flicks. But, what it lacks in visuals and set design, it makes up for with atmosphere, interesting characters, and plenty of really fun scenes. The movie goes a step further to set itself apart from the standard genre fare by opting for a lounge-y nightclub soundtrack instead of pulsing electronic beats and synthesized tunes. This really gives the movie a noir-ish vibe, and it helps. It hooked me and maintained my interest throughout. I really feel like there was a lot of ambition behind this movie, like the filmmakers wanted to make a good movie and not just make a paycheck.

  Unfortunately, mileage may vary for most. Some of the things they try don't work so well, and simply making the movie more colorful would've gone a long way to making it that little extra bit more engaging and interesting. Not all the characters can shoulder the story as well as they should be able to. But, nevertheless, the leads do an admirable job and I had a good time watching them. More than all that, the movie tries to maintain a -fun- tone. It's surprisingly lighthearted despite several really grim and unnerving scenes. When the budget allowed, there's some cool practical effects and interesting locales to keep things fresh.

   One place worth pointing out is the 'Last Gasp' Cafe. See, civilization in this futuristic world is primarily subterranean, but occasionally people must surface in order to do certain things. But, since there's no breathable air top-side, people have to lug around oxygen tanks to survive up there. Thus there are 'oxy-refill' stations, and in particular... the Last Gasp Cafe. When our protagonists arrive, they have to go through an airlock, complete with a nice LED sign saying "DON'T BREATHE" and then when the air equalized... "BREATHE". Circuitry Man has lots of little funny details like this that I think the casual review might not care about or notice.

  The tone of the movie is unique and energetic so it's impossible to be bored, combined with a visually stunning climactic showdown, taking place entirely inside Plughead's mind- makes Circuitry Man a charming and exciting post-apocalyptic romp. It could stand to have a little more content when all is said and done, but I wasn't disappointed in the least. It's a nice little sci-fi flick with a cute romantic subplot and a host of cool sci-fi concepts. Circuitry Man may not be a great movie, but the sheer amount of ambition behind it makes it charismatic and endearing, enough so that it scrapes by as purely 'good'. Go in with the right set of expectations and you'll have a good time. I really liked it. It shares themes with other guilty pleasures Johnny Mnemonic and Hardware. After all, how can you dislike a movie with a line like... "Why jack off when you can jack in!?"
Vernon Wells is a gift to mankind.

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