[Screen It]


(2002) (Christian Bale, Taye Diggs) (R)

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Sci-fi: In a world where emotions and art result in the possessor of either being killed, an enforcer of such laws goes on the run and tries to overthrow the ruler after becoming entranced by both illegal elements.
It's sometime in the 21st century and survivors of the third world war have realized that the volatile nature of humans can no longer be risked. Accordingly, the ruler of the land, Father (SEAN PERTWEE), has decreed through his powerful right-hand man, Dupont (ANGUS MACFADYEN), that all human emotions be suppressed.

Accordingly, everyone is ordered to take their daily dose of emotion-eliminating Prozium, while all artwork has been deemed dangerous and thus earmarked to be destroyed upon discovery. To make sure this occurs, a highly trained and lethal group of law enforcers known as the Gramaton Clerics has been called into action and none are as proficient as John Preston (CHRISTIAN BALE). Not only did he not intervene when his wife (MARIA PIA CALZONE) was executed for breaking the law, but he's also just killed his partner, Partridge (SEAN BEAN), for hording a forbidden literary work.

Now raising his two kids, Robbie (MATTHEW HARBOUR) and Lisa (EMILY SIEWERT), by himself, Preston finds himself partnered with the overzealous Brandt (TAYE DIGGS) who's determined to help Father and Dupont find and wipe out a rebel underground movement led by Jurgen (WILLIAM FICHTNER).

Yet, when Preston inadvertently doesn't take his Prozium for a day, he's soon overwhelmed by emotions as well as the words of captured dissident Mary O'Brien (EMILY WATSON) who causes him to question his place and purpose in a world where emotion is outlawed. From that point on, Preston suddenly finds himself labeled by his own as the enemy and does what he can to find Jurgen and his followers while avoiding Brandt and others who want to capture and kill him.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
There's been a long-running debate about whether various forms of mass media entertainment affect today's youth and even older viewers in negative ways. While there will probably never be a definitive answer to that, it's surprising that some faction hasn't lumped novels, plays and even classic artwork with music, movies, TV shows and videogames as the roots of all that is evil. After all, they also affect the consumer's senses and emotional state of being.

In writer/director Kurt Wimmer's purported cautionary sci-fi tale of such cause and effect reactions and mindsets, the people of the future have taken extreme measures to prevent art and emotions from causing yet another world war. After all, the likes of Eminem, the Osbournes and even Carrot Top obviously managed to cause all of the world's various wars hundreds and thousands of years before those artists were even around (talk about far-reaching subliminal effects).

Accordingly, the futuristic government has decided that to prevent future violence, they have to destroy all such artwork and mow down anyone and everyone remotely associated with it. That's because guns don't kill people, artwork apparently does, although the guns here are doing a far better job than Beethoven or the various tacky knickknacks on display.

That's one of the problems and inconsistencies with Wimmer's story. Simply put, the logic is flawed and all screwy. The "police" -- who are empowered to find and destroy all art and those who own it to prevent violence -- show emotion in killing many, many people (as does their leader).

Then there's the fact that the emotion-deadening drug that everyone's supposed to take is self-administered rather than government controlled. Those and various other flaws and lapses in logic could have been fixed with a few tweaks of the old script (such as making the drug addictive so that everyone wants and/or has to take it, especially if missing one does could potentially undermine the government).

Yet, Wimmer (director of "One Tough Bastard" and writer of "The Thomas Crown Affair") seems far more interested in fashioning "Matrix" style action sequences rather than the thought-provoking sci-fi allegory that this acts like it's going to be.

While some of those scenes end up being somewhat entertaining and fun in a campy and guilty pleasure sort of way, they clearly can't save the production. They certainly don't alleviate another of the film's bigger problems and that's its predictable nature and been there, seen that familiarity.

For starters, the film retreads similar, over-reactionary themes found in other sci-fi works such as "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451." Then, once the premise is established, one quickly sees that the story is going to be heading down a similar route to that found in other sci-fi films such as "Logan's Run" and "Minority Report."

Namely, that is that the central enforcer, who's so good at what he does, suddenly finds himself on the other side of the law and those with whom he works. His former partner then sets out to bring him down as the protagonist sees the errors of his ways as well as the society in which he operated.

To make matters worse, Wimmer doesn't really do anything innovative or interesting after that setup. Beyond the various "Matrix" style fight and shoot 'em up moments including the inevitable big showdown between the former partners, there just isn't much to engage the viewer's mind or heart.

As the converted hero on the run, Christian Bale ("Reign of Fire," "American Psycho") is decent playing the physical requirements of the role. Even so, he can't do much with the weakly written dramatic and emotional material. One can imagine any number of ways someone would react to experiencing emotions for the first time (presumably in their lives), but Bale doesn't do much in registering that. Since we don't care about his character, transformation or resultant predicament and/or goal, there's no reason to get into the story or behind his character.

Taye Diggs ("Brown Sugar," "The Best Man") doesn't have to worry about that latter aspect, as there's none of that offered for his character. Instead, he's present just as an amalgamation of most any tough guy tracker ever brought to the screen.

For such a mess of a film, Wimmer managed to assemble a rather impressive supporting cast. Although he's not present for long, Sean Bean ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Don't Say a Word") appears as the original partner, while William Fichtner ("Black Hawk Down," "The Perfect Storm") plays a rebel leader. Emily Watson ("Red Dragon," "Punch Drunk Love") shows up as a captured dissident and Angus MacFadyen ("Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "Titus") plays the power-hungry second-in-charge. While decent in their parts, they unfortunately can't do much with their characters as they're written.

With too much emphasis on the stylishly shot fight and action sequences rather than the sci-fi or even human elements, the film is all flash and little substance, even when it pretends to be interested in the latter. Flawed in all sorts of ways, the unbalanced "Equilibrium" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed November 11, 2002 / Posted December 6, 2002

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