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(2018) (Logan Marshall-Green, Harrison Gilbertson) (R)

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Sci-Fi/Thriller: After an attack leaves his wife dead and him a quadriplegic, an old-school man gets a high tech upgrade that allows him to do amazing things while searching for those responsible for the assault.
Grey Trace (LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN) is an old-school sort of guy who tries to eschew modern technology as much as he can. Unlike his wife, Asha (MELANIE VALLEJO), and the rest of the world that relies on home-based AI and self-driving cars, Grey would rather get his hands dirty and do things the old-fashioned way.

His anti-technology stance is yanked into the spotlight when his and Asha's self-driving car malfunctions and crashes. They're pulled from the wreckage by a number of partially masked thugs led by Fisk (BENEDICT HARDIE), but are then attacked by them, leaving Asha dead and Grey a paraplegic. Enter Grey's latest vintage car customer, Eron King (HARRISON GILBERTSON), who offers the grief-ridden man a bit of physical salvation. Via a computer chip called STEM inserted at the point of Grey's severed spine, the self-admitted low-tech man will get a high-tech upgrade that will allow him to walk again.

Grey is initially reluctant, but agrees to the procedure and related non-disclosure arrangement, mainly because it will make finding the perps and bringing them to justice easier, what with local Det. Cortez (BETTY GABRIEL) getting nowhere on that front. What Grey doesn't bargain for, however, is that STEM not only will talk to him inside his head, but with permission will also be able to take control of Grey's body and get him out of precarious situations.

From that point on, Grey continues to pretend he's a quadriplegic to the rest of the world, all while he uses STEM to help him track down Fisk and the other assailants, unaware of how far the computer chip will go in the name of self-preservation.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When it comes to inevitable change as related to products and technology, there will always be those who encourage and warmly embrace it, and those who fight it tooth and nail, proudly boasting their allegiance to the school of old. I'm sure that when the wheel was first invented, someone declared it unsafe or unproven and opted to continue carrying or dragging things. The same will hold true as robotic and artificial intelligence continue to pervade and invade our lives and even our bodies over the coming decades.

The one that's on our doorstep that seems to divide people most is self-driving cars. Having to share the road with those too foolhardy, timid and outright stupid to drive, I personally cannot wait for traffic flow to be unencumbered by human emotions. But I understand those who like to drive and feel they'll lose something along the way, and others who fear technology failures and the possibility of being hacked and having no control.

Such is the kicking off point for "Upgrade," a futuristic thriller where our protagonist, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is decidedly old school as noted by him working with his own two hands (how antiquated and charming, if dirty and unnecessary) on his vintage muscle car, all while most of the rest of the world -- including his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo) -- relies on automated vehicles to get around.

Of course, such hands-free "driving" does allow for a newfangled take on "paradise by the dashboard light," and while involved in a little marital hanky panky, the car deviates from its destination, starts picking up speed, and ultimately crashes in a bad part of town. They're pulled from the wreckage, only to have some thugs -- led by Fisk (Benedict Hardie) and equipped with their own built-in high-tech -- end up killing the missus and purposefully leave Grey a quadriplegic.

After unsuccessfully attempting to end his own life via AI, and mad that Det. Cortez (Betty Gabriel) has yet to find and bring the perps to justice, Grey decides to take up an offer from one of his vintage car clients, eccentric tech CEO Eron King (Harrison Gilbertson). He's developed a computer chip called STEM that will bridge severed neural pathways and return full body function to those who suffer from any form of paralysis. While Eron seems simply interested in whether his invention will work (complete with a non-disclosure agreement), Grey comes to realize this will better allow him to pull a Charles Bronson and find the bad guys himself.

And once he gets a taste of what the device can do with his body -- by taking control of it and utilizing all of his physical abilities to their fullest -- he eventually realizes he can go all "Death Wish 2050" (or whatever year this takes place) and get some vigilante revenge. It's then that the film -- written and directed by Leigh Whannell (best known for writing many of the "Saw" flicks) -- picks up some much needed steam but also repeatedly crosses the center line full-on into goofy, guilty pleasure action flick.

Much like Jason Bourne many decades earlier, he comes to realize he can do some amazing things in terms of delivering and avoiding any number of blows as he progressively begins moving up the villainous chain of command to find out who's ultimately responsible for the earlier attack on him and his wife.

Some viewers will willingly go along for the ride into action goofiness, while others may not like the genre detour the pic takes when it arrives at that narrative fork in the road. I found myself somewhere in between where I wished the headier sci-fi didn't end up taking a backseat to the visceral mayhem, but can't deny that so much of that's over-the-top that it has something of a magnetic and undeniable pull to it.

Essentially an upgrade to the old exploitative vigilante films of the '70s, "Upgrade" could have used some fixes to its script and abrupt tonal change, but enough of it works to earn a slight, middle of the road recommendation. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 3, 2018 / Posted June 1, 2018

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