Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mutant Chronicles

There are some actors and actresses you just instinctively like, not necessarily on a talent basis, but more on the “I could sit in a bar and drink a beer with him” scale. One of those actors, for me, is Thomas Jane. Unfortunately, as fond of him as I am, I’m starting to believe he just can’t quite carry a movie as its star. Case in point: Last year’s Mutant Chronicles.

The movie opens with some lengthy exposition, largely through title cards. It seems hundreds of years ago, an alien device was sent to Earth which would transform humans into murderous mutants. Why? Hey, if you can build a giant mutant-making machine, you don’t need a why, you just do it. The mutants were an obvious threat, but the armies of Europe united, kicked some mutie ass, and buried the machine deep in the ground behind an impenetrable shield. Good work, but it would have been thoughtful to erect a giant sign that read “Don’t Dig Here” on the spot as well.

Seven hundred years in our future, the world has been divided up among four giant corporations, who are continually at war over scarce resources. In Europe, conflict between two of them has resulted in World War I-type trench warfare. As hellish as this seems, it gets worse when one of the big artillery guns fires a burst which hits the ground, and, you guessed it, breaks the seal. Mutants begin pouring out (where did the machine get the human stock to make them? Has their inventory held up for a few thousand years?), and soon the troops on both sides are slaughtered. Apparently, in ancient times, soldiers with swords and spears could kick the hell out of these mutants, but futuristic soldier with explosives, automatic weapons and BFGs are no match for them.

Soon the Earth is being overrun by the muties, and things look grim. The Powers That Be react with a plan called Run The Hell Away, and select people get passes to leave for another planet. There is a monastery, however, that has preserved the secrets of the Mutant-O-Matic down through the years, and one of the head monks (Ron Perlman) goes to one of the bigshots (John Malkovich) with a plan to take a small team to destroy the thing. It seems a device removed from the machine has been passed down through the years, and the monks “think” it’s a bomb, begging the question of why they didn’t blow it up in the first place.

A team is soon assembled, including the brooding Hunter (Thomas Jane), our hero. They launch a poorly planned mission to get to the machine and use the device which might be a bomb. Of course, they have to fight their way through an army of mutants to do so, and most of the characters you would think would die, do.

The movie does have a striking visual style. The future world it shows is something of a steampunk future, where aircraft are powered by someone shoveling coal into a boiler. (This is due to the scarcity of petroleum, but wouldn’t coal be scarce, too.) Despite its looks, the viewer never really connects with the mission of Jane’s character, which is a pity. For a movie of this type, the cast and production values are top-notch.

There is also a bit of inconsistency. Most of the mutants are portrayed as mindless killing machines, but one is shown flying an aircraft on a complicated intercepting trajectory, and the final mutant of the movie retains the ability to carry on a conversation.

This is probably an adequate way to waste an evening, but it seems it could have been so much more.

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