THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Peter Chungís ďAeon FluxĒ was a sci-fi/anime series that ran on MTV. It had a sleek visual style and a lot of cool action. Bringing the property to the big screen in live action form was a no-brainer, especially considering the level of talent involved. Stars Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand are Oscar winners, and co-stars Pete Postlethwaite and Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) were Oscar nominees. Director Karyn Kusama is the acclaimed independent director of Girlfight; her presence behind the camera promised a smart, original take on the material.

Despite all this promise, Aeon Flux is a complete mess. How bad is it? Bad enough that Paramount Pictures hid it from critics. Iíve never understood this strategy, especially since even worse films (Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Doom) were screened in advance. Nevertheless, the studio was clearly embarrassed by the end product. Aeon Flux shows glimmers of ambition, but the execution is so fundamentally misguided that any discernible ambition canít be rescued.

The film is set in the future. A virus has killed off 99% of civilization. The survivors, who were saved via a hastily developed inoculation, live in a specially designed city called Bregna. Things are not as idyllic as they would seem. Many people are suffering strange flashbacks, as though experiencing some vague but powerful memory. Itís clear that something is not right.

Theron plays the title character, a so-called Monican who opposes the ruling Goodchild dynasty. A being known as ďthe HandlerĒ (McDormand) lives inside her brain and delivers orders to execute Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), the ruler of the dynasty and creator of the virus cure. Considering that she believes Trevor ordered the murder of her sister, Aeon has no problem wasting the guy. Before pulling the trigger, she discovers that Trevor isnít the real villain; his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) is. This leads to the unraveling of a mystery involving a large population of clones. I probably shouldnít give anything away, but the only good thing about Aeon Flux is the premise, so if you donít want to know what happens, skip to the next paragraph now. It turns out that everyone in the city is a clone. Trevor has been recycling them for generations while he attempts to find a cure for the infertility that was an unfortunate side effect of the virus inoculation. Once human reproduction resumes as normal, Trevor can stop recycling everyone.

Thereís an interesting concept in the movie, but it can never figure out what to do with that idea. Aeon Flux is all surface and no substance. Despite an abundance of super-cool visuals, the film feels like it hasnít been filled in. Thereís no character development; everyone is a complete mystery. Voiceover narration explains Aeonís role as a dissident, but beyond that she is completely colorless. While the story is admittedly intriguing, it doesnít unfold so much as just drop itself down right in front of you. Thereís no build-up, no suspense, no payoff.

Part of the problem is that Aeon Flux doesnít take the time to establish the world in which it is set. Youíre just expected to take things at face value. For instance, McDormandís character is never explained. She lives somewhere inside Aeonís brain, but how did she get there? Where does her authority come from? Does she get into other peopleís brains as well? How does that work? Other things are similarly unexplained. In one scene, Aeon pulls something off her skin and places it over a manís bullet wound, thereby healing it. Since we have not, to this point, been clued in that she has healing powers, the moment seems arbitrary. There are dozens of similar moments throughout. Things seem to develop out of nowhere.

Sometimes, in its relentless effort to achieve Matrix-style cool, Aeon Flux just comes off seeming silly. Late in the film, Aeon meets the guardian of the clones, the Keeper (Postlethwaite), whose outfit resembles nothing so much as a giant burrito with a human head in it. I couldnít help but wonder if the actors were able to keep a straight face when Postlethwaite walked on set wearing the costume for the first time. If they laughed Ė and one can only presume that they must have Ė why didnít anyone realize that the audience would laugh as well?

One of the main selling points here (aside from Charlize Theron in skin-tight leather) is the futuristic action. However, those scenes are so clumsily edited that itís occasionally hard to tell what youíre looking at. Aeon and her colleague Sithandra (Okonado) do a lot of flipping, spinning, and flying; the result is more dizzying than exciting, though. A good action sequence kind of makes you feel like you are there. The action in Aeon Flux is like watching a martial arts fight while rapidly spinning on a merry-go-round.

I donít know what happened behind the scenes of this film, but it sure feels like big chunks of exposition are missing. (The scant 95-minute running time would seem to support this idea.) Iím betting the DVD will probably have 30-40 minutes of deleted scenes that will supply the missing guts of the movie. Aeon Flux could have been a really awesome sci-fi adventure, which makes it harder for me to say this: The movie, as it stands, should have been called Aeon Sucks.

( 1/2 out of four)

Aeon Flux is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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