[Screen It]

"MORGAN"
(2016) (Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Action: A corporate risk analyst tries to determine if a genetically engineered girl, already grown into the strength and advanced intelligence of a young woman, poses a risk to society.
PLOT:
Lee Weathers (KATE MARA) is a corporate risk analyst who's been assigned to determine whether five-year-old Morgan (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY) is a risk to society and whether a biotech's investment in her has been worth the time and money. For Morgan isn't just any young girl. Instead, she's a genetically modified mutant who's already grown into the strength and advanced intelligence of a young woman and has recently attacked one of her caretakers, Dr. Kathy Grieff (JENNIFER JASON LEIGH), after that woman informed Morgan her time outside with another caretaker, Amy Menser (ROSE LESLIE), would be curtailed. Accordingly, Lee has arrived ahead of psychotherapist Dr. Alan Shapiro (PAUL GIAMATTI), and their plan is to determine if she poses a risk to society, whether the project involving her should continue, and whether Morgan herself -- who Lee refers to as an "it" -- should be terminated.

Naturally, this doesn't sit well with the team that's known, raised and studied Morgan since birth. That includes Dr. Lui Cheng (MICHELLE YEOH) and Dr. Simon Ziegler (TOBY JONES) who are locally in charge of the project; coworkers turned spouses Darren (CHRIS SULLIVAN) and Brenda Finch (VINETTE ROBINSON) who met on the job; project manager Ted Brenner (MICHAEL YARE); and nutritionist Skip Vronsky (BOYD HOLBROOK).

Everyone knows and is uneasy about Lee's marching orders, and things become more volatile once Dr. Shapiro shows up and seemingly tries to push Morgan over the edge from an emotional and psychological standpoint. From that point on, they must contend with how Morgan responds to that.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
My favorite film from 2015 was the superlative sci-fi psychological thriller "Ex Machina." In it, Oscar Isaac plays the CEO of a high-tech company and has brought a computer programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) to his remote home to conduct what's known as the Turing test on his latest invention.

In short, the young man has been selected to determine if an android played by Alicia Vikander could pass for human. It's heady stuff at first, but the thriller aspect eventually surfaces and takes over as it's unclear who's manipulating whom, and whether the human-like robot is just a pawn or the actual chess master.

When I first heard about the sci-fi thriller "Morgan," it certainly sounded a great deal like "Ex Machina." After all, a woman (Kate Mara) is sent in to test whether a biotech-engineered 5-year-old is human enough to avoid the literal corporate chopping block, or, in this case, assassin's bullets. The fact that the girl (played by Anya Taylor-Joy and referred to as "it" by the corporate risk analyst) looks like a young woman only reinforces the similarities to last year's best flick.

Alas, that's where the comparisons end, for while the movie -- directed by Luke Scott from a script by Seth Owen -- starts off okay and has a decent sequence where Paul Giamatti plays a psychotherapist likewise employed to test the girl -- and test her he does -- it otherwise devolves into a B-movie action offering that quickly loses one's interest and attention once the loftier sci-fi gives way to the mayhem.

All of which is too bad since there's potential here. While the whys, whats, and hows of the experiment at hand are never really explained, Taylor-Joy creates a memorable character that's somewhat of a modern day Frankenstein's monster. Usually wearing a hoodie to make her appear more mysterious, she's both childlike and somehow worldly, yet dangerously wild and unpredictable.

And Mara is initially good as the corporate risk analyst -- a.k.a. assassin -- who knows the parameters of her job and has a no-nonsense, all-business demeanor about her. That continues once the action ensues, but it becomes progressively less interesting the more the punches and bullets are delivered.

Everyone else collectively sort of feels like the standard multi-ethnic crew so often found in sci-fi movies where you know they only have so much time before they meet their various demises. While that worked in films like the first two "Alien" pics, it's not as remotely gripping here.

If you want to see this sort of story told in an excellent fashion, check out "Ex Machina." If you're curious about how not to do it, here's your prime example. Decent for a while and then not, "Morgan" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed August 24, 2016 / Posted September 2, 2016


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