Moviemakers who set their films in the future rarely offer pleasant conceptualizations of what our world will be like in the coming years. Blame “Blade Runner” for introducing this theme of futuristic celluloid dystopia to Hollywood, which up to that time (“Logan’s Run” aside) often presented audiences with visions of gleaming cityscapes, flying cars, and hot, green-skinned alien babes.
Admittedly, Michael Winterbottom’s “Code 46” doesn’t scrimp on the gleaming cityscapes. Set in a not-too-distant future where access to metropolitan areas is severely restricted (visitors are given a certain length of time where they have “cover,” reminiscent of diplomatic protocol), the film opens with William (Tim Robbins) an inspector on the trail of forged cards that have allowed someone to travel between cities illegally. He’s come to Shanghai to talk to the manager of a plant who manufactures the cards, and his investigations lead him to Maria (Samantha Morton), a worker in the plant. Before too long, William (with the help of an empathy virus that affords him borderline psychic powers) determines Maria is the culprit. Problem is, he’s also fallen in love with her.
And who wouldn’t? She’s Samantha Morton, after all.
Problems arise, as they always do, this time relating to the titular Code 46 (which prevents two genetically similar individuals from breeding) and the messy public demise of a man using one of Maria’s forged cards. William is soon back in Shanghai in an attempt to resolve the pickle in which he’s found himself, preferably without his wife and child in Seattle finding out.
“Code 46” doesn’t stray too far into science fiction territory until the latter half of the movie, though the trappings are there early on: a pollution blasted rural landscape, linguistic mish-mash (characters speak a combo of Spanish, French, Chinese, and English), and artificially created “viruses” that allow those infected to acquire skills and talents. Even then, Winterbottom and company could have made a few minor tweaks and come up with a modern day drama. I happen to like the setting, however. Plopping the audience into the film’s world with little set up is refreshing. Others may wonder why cities are so off limits, or what happened to the climate to create such desolation elsewhere, but not dwelling on these relatively unimportant details allows us to concentrate on the story at hand.
Things go from bad to worse when William returns to Shanghai, as Maria has had her memory erased. The final third of the movie sees the pair fleeing the city, and from there makes a turn into some frankly ridiculous territory. It’s a shame, because Robbins and Morton have a certain awkward chemistry, reminiscent of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen in “Lost in Translation.” I’m not sure you can call what they have “love,” but if movies set in the future are to be believed, none of us will have time for that crap anyway. What with all the global warming and utter lack of privacy.
“Code 46” depicts a stark contrast between the blasted landscape of the hinterlands and the towering skyscrapers of the cities. City life doesn’t seem all that different in the near future, except for the atmosphere of paranoia that permeates everything. And as it turns out, paranoia may not be a bad idea. I won’t spoil the ending, but if “Code 46” is to be believed, women will have it even worse in the years to come. What’s more (and more frightening to some of us), it appears Coldplay will still be around.
And so will the Clash’s Mick Jones, who has a hilarious cameo singing “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” in a karaoke bar.
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