Some movies wear their influences on their sleeves. John Wick owes a great debt to Le Samourai and the pantheon of 80’s action movies. We wouldn’t have Inception without The Matrix, or Okja without E.T. Every great movie, whether its influences are obvious or subtle, builds on what’s been done before and hopefully finds something fresh along the way. Then there are movies like Mad Genius, which is such a blatant ripoff of one specific thing that I’m not sure how it’s legal, or how actors with actual agents allowed them to be involved.
See if this sounds familiar. Mason (Chris Mason) is a socially awkward computer hacker who is obsessed with “changing the world” by…ending war and poverty…or something. He wears a mask and has a popular vlog channel for his antics. He’s part of an underground of cool, drug-addled nerds who create programs to destroy banks or whatever in between their massive heroin binges. But the twist, you see, is that Mason has a rebellious friend named Finn (Scott Mechlowicz) who lives…inside his head. Finn is Mason’s alternate personality, and he appears in hallucinations to berate him and convince him to break the rules and have drug-soaked sex with the women at the computer nerd loft.
“…part of an underground of cool, drug-addled nerds who create programs to destroy banks or whatever in between their heroin binges.”
It’s such a beat-for-beat copy of the USA show Mr. Robot that within the first five minutes, I felt like Scottie at the end of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I wanted to scream at my laptop, “He made you over, didn’t he!? Not only the clothes and the hair but the looks and the manner and the words!” But that would have scared my neighbors, so I held back.
Not only are the narrative basics of Mr. Robot copied and pasted; many of that far superior show’s stylistic quirks come along for the ride too. The fourth-wall-breaking narration and direct addresses to the camera. The visual overlays of “computer stuff.” The moody electronic soundtrack. The haphazard jump cuts and disorienting effects to represent drug trips and mental instability. The bizarre, pseudo-philosophical proclamations: “Do you want to save the world? Boom, boom, boom, boom.” “Free will is a deficiency!” “Society is just an agreement. Money, just an agreement. This place is about creating your own agreement.” It was shocking to see Mr. Robot’s whole idiosyncratic package lifted so comprehensively. Eventually, Mad Genius doesn’t feel like a lazy ripoff of Mr. Robot, but like a film made by someone who has literally never watched anything other than Mr. Robot.