While science fiction draws billions with CGI-inflated blockbusters devoid of anything but merchandising, the subgenre of cyberpunk has remained in the shadows of tech-strewn alleyways. William Gibson certainly didn’t invent it, but his 1984 novel Neuromancer and subsequent sequels kept us on Earth while creating an entirely new electronic universe that predicted the future with shamanistic precision. A wave of entertainment followed, including the brilliant television series Max Headroom and Shadowrun, a Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing game that easily translated into a brilliant video game. Excellent films like Robocop, Hardware and Strange Days appeared alongside the atrocities of Freejack, The Lawnmower Man and Johnny Mnemonic, but despite the success of The Matrix series, the gritty style never really found mainstream acceptance even though elements can be found throughout modern science fiction. Now director Robert McGinley adds to the canon with equally uneven results.
The story revolves around Devi Danger (Molly Sides), the singer of a Seattle rock band who ends up in jail after a tumultuous performance. She’s bailed out by Stanley Arkoff (Tim Gouran), a tech billionaire working on a new product that will change humanity. He had seen her audition for an opera where her voice was determined to have the perfect range for his project. He signs her to his company to try out his wetware, which transforms her voice into something both mesmerizing and dangerous. Of course, the corporate mogul and his evil henchman Dr. Calvin Yamachi (Ray Tagavilla) have more in mind than just music.
“…try out his wetware, which transforms her voice into something both mesmerizing and dangerous.”
It sounds awesome, but sadly it misses the bullseye with some glaring shortcomings. Aside from some spot-on performances from Amy Thone as composer Adrian Balew and Conner B. Neddersen as drummer Scattering, the acting is atrocious. Charles Band got more out of his actors in his worst movies. Most everybody seems uncomfortable in front of the camera, delivering their dialog with jarring hesitance. The camerawork doesn’t help, either. Granted, a vast CGI-cityscape wasn’t in the budget (thankfully), but all the shots are utilitarian and bland. Just because you’re using cheap sets and locations doesn’t mean your photography has to be boring.
Despite these problems, the screenplay is absolutely f*****g brilliant. Seriously. If you remove the external elements and focus only on the script, it’s a damn solid piece of writing. There’s an interesting plot that draws from elements of classic cyberpunk to create a unique futuristic dystopia. The real tragedy is that the actors can’t deliver their lines convincingly. Even with ugly framing, the film could have succeeded with a little more effort in the casting department. Sadly, the distractions of everything that’s wrong outweigh the potential greatness of the film.
At one point, Thone as Adrian Balew (excellent King Crimson reference, by the way) says: “Slick technique is not a substitute for passion.” It’s a profound statement but entirely ironic in the context of this film. In the end, Danger Diva doesn’t really do it.
Danger Diva (2018) Directed by Robert McGinley. Written by Robert McGinley. Starring Molly Sides, Tim Gouran, Conner B. Neddersen, Ray Tagavilla and Amy Thone.
6 out of 10 stars