You'd think visionary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick would have been better served by the cinema, but eliminate the melancholy BLADE RUNNER (regularly ranked among the best science fiction movies of all time) and you're left with the bloated TOTAL RECALL and MINORITY REPORT, bare-bones shocker SCREAMERS and the corpses of projects conceived and abandoned, notably Terry Gilliam's A Scanner Darkly. So this flawed but surprisingly successful adaptation of his 1953 short story is a pleasant surprise. 2079: A generation has grown up in the shadow of ongoing war with unseen aliens. Earth's cities are encased beneath sky-obscuring shields, and the Earth Security Agency (ESA) has been granted nearly unlimited power in the name of homeland security. Respected scientist Spence Olham (Gary Sinise) has devoted his career to developing the ultimate anti-alien weapon, while finding refuge in his marriage to the beautiful Maya (Madeleine Stowe), a doctor whose practice is nearly overwhelmed by war casualties. And then Olham's life is turned upside down. ESA agent Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio) accuses him of being an alien cyborg with a bomb hidden somewhere deep in its chest cavity. Spencer protests: He knows who he is. But since that's what an alien cyborg would say, no one believes him. Faced with the prospect of vivisection for the greater good of humanity, Olham runs, hiding in the decimated slum outside the city's protective shield in hopes of finding some way to prove his identity and recover his stolen life. This psychological sci-fi thriller was originally made as a 40-minute segment of an unrealized portmanteau picture, then expanded into a freestanding feature. That's probably why it's padded with shots of Olham running down corridors, and why his alliance with the mysterious Cale (Mekhi Phifer), a grungy Robin Hood from the unshielded slums, feels forced and not quite integrated into the nightmarish central conflict. The film drifted in release limbo for more than a year (director Gary Fleder's DON'T SAY A WORD was shot after and released three months earlier), which inevitably fostered the impression that it was a total disaster. Its success is due in large part to Sinise's performance: He's actor enough to tackle Dick's favorite conundrum — How can you know what you know or who you are when all your ideas are filtered through your own biased and highly fallible consciousness? — and to invest the double-twist ending with a real emotional wallop.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: You'd think visionary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick would have been better served by the cinema, but eliminate the melancholy BLADE RUNNER (regularly ranked among the best science fiction movies of all time) and you're left with the bloated TOTAL RECALL and… (more)