Code 46

© 2004 Ray Wong

In a Bladerunner-isque world of segregation and isolation, William Geld (Robbins) is a fraud investigator who relies on his “intuition” to catch criminals. He travels to a city out in the desert named Shanghai (in an alternate universe) to investigate the “papelle” case. A “papelle” is a genetically coded ID and travel document, which allows an individual to travel in and out of the “special zones” – big cities full of promises and opportunities.

Someone at the Sphinx (the place where papelles are manufactured and processed) has been stealing and smuggling papelles. When William zeros in on his target, he meets an employee, Maria.

You see, before he embarked on his trip, he has injected himself with an “empathy virus” to better help with his job. Whether it’s the virus or that he feels a connection with Maria, he finds himself falling for the mysterious woman. His intuition tells him that Maria is the culprit, but he lets her go; instead, he voluntarily frames another employee and let Maria smuggle the papelle right before him. Their inevitable romance leads to a series of events that render them fugitive of an international law: Code 46.

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Code 46 is a law to control population and ensure the quality of the future human race. People who are 25%, 50% or 100% identical genetically cannot procreate together. A violation of the law would result in pregnancy termination and memory eradication.

With that knowledge, we pretty much know where the story is heading right from the start. Any remaining suspense (involving dreams, mystery, and secrets) revolves around the fate of the two protagonists: What will ultimately happen to them in this world run by a Gestapo-like international government and law enforcements?

Robbins (MYSTIC RIVER) gives a lethargic performance here. Throughout the film, his eyes seem glazed over, his expression bland and his speech monotonous as if he’s sleepwalking instead of being the character. Or perhaps it is the character’s fault. We will never know. Morton (MINORITY REPORT), on the other hand, continues to be mesmerizing. Even in a murky, inconsistent character, she finds something worthwhile and captivating. Unfortunately, there is no chemistry between her and Robbins, and that’s a fatal flaw in a sci-fi romance. On a positive note, the hugely international cast does a good job in supportive roles.

The world conjured up by writer Boyce and director Winterbottom (WELCOME TO SARAJEVO) is interesting to behold. Using almost no extravagant CGI effects, but real locations such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and India, the result can be amusingly confusing (for example, why do they drive these old cars and SUVs in this futuristic world?) The noir feel and mood of the film, as well as the cinematography, do a great job in bringing us a future world that is both familiar and frighteningly alien.

While a sci-fi movie without CGI effects is a welcome treat, Boyce’s script is not. The common flaw of such a film is that it’s too in love with its “cool” ideas that it forgets about the story or characters. We never really fully understand the motivations behind the two main characters. We are led to believe that they share a strong connection, love, and passion but we don’t really believe it. The central suspense also elicits a “lackluster” or “ho-hum” feeling. The stakes are never high enough, which lead to a very unsatisfying and nonsensical climax near the end. The ending itself is sad and tragic, but by now, we’re so disconnected with the characters that we don’t really care. We’d come out of the theater feeling just as disconnected as the people in that world. To me, when the filmmakers break that connection with the audience, it’s a clear code violation.

Stars: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Jeane Balibar, Christopher Simpson, David Fahm, Togo Igawa
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Distributor: United Artists
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, sexual content, language, drug use


Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 6

Total Score – 6.4 out of 10

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