For a while there, as you’re watching “Aeon Flux,” the live action movie based on Peter Chung’s cult MTV cartoon, you find yourself thinking, “You know, this isn’t that horrible. Frances McDormand’s hair is goofy, sure, and the fight scenes aren’t shot particularly well, but it’s not that bad. Not Catwoman bad.”
So much for the first ten minutes.
“Aeon Flux” is set in the far-flung future, after a virus referred to as “Industrial Disease” has wiped out 99% of Earth’s population (I always knew Dire Straits would be the doom of mankind). The story follows the titular character (played by an apparently contractually obligated Charlize Theron) on her daring exploits as the #1 assassin for an insurgent group known as the Monicans (must…resist…Lewinski joke). See, the free city of Bregna has been ruled by the Goodchild family for over four hundred years, yet citizens are monitored around the clock and many are mysteriously “disappeared” for unknown purposes.
After a successful mission to knock out the city’s surveillance center, Aeon returns to find her sister murdered. If you thought she was a coldly efficient killing machine in spandex beforehand, well let me tell you, hell hath no fury like a woman who’s just lost a family member given a whopping 90 seconds of screen time.
A year passes, and Aeon finds herself given the equivalent of the executive washroom key for Monican assassins: a chance to knock off Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) himself. The mission is…complicated by Trevor’s apparent personal knowledge of his would-be killer, who – for all her supposed lethality – can’t bring herself to finish him off. This leads to a merry game of hide-and-seek with city troops, as well as the rest of the Monican elite assassin squad (all four of them), who are a mite pissed that Aeon has abandoned her mission.
Every rumor you’ve heard about this film is true; it’s an absolute wreck. Theron is fetching enough in her tight outfits, but utters each line like she just downed a handful of Quaaludes. Between “Monster” and “North Country,” maybe she decided to take a breather from actually acting and play a character so colorless and bereft of personality, her very performance is like a vortex from which no talent can escape. The only time Csokas is allowed to display any emotion other than bewilderment is when he’s shot in the back, and the shoulder, and the back again, and McDormand (as the Monican leader) obviously took the role purely for the chance to do something “zany” with her hair.
Few comparisons will probably be drawn to Chung’s cartoon, probably because so few people saw it in the first place. It’s just as well, since the film is so stylistically estranged from the original. There’s a nice homage to Aeon’s Venus flytrap eyelashes in the opening scene, but that’s about it. In the TV show, Bregna was a visual marvel, with impossible architecture and mad cityscapes. Here, most of the scenes look like they were shot in a Berlin aqueduct. And if “Aeon Flux” is to be believed, the killer virus will spare most of the world’s fashion designers, as all people of the 25th century will dress like they just came off the runway in Milan.
As dystopian futures go, what’s depicted here is pretty by-the-book, though plenty of questions are left unanswered: why would the resistance’s top assassin sleep with her target, and in the place with probably the most surveillance in the whole city? Why is it that only women seem to fight hand-to-hand (not that I’m complaining)? Why is Pete Postelthwaite wearing a giant condom?
Writer Phil Hay cobbles together a plot that would seem trite in an 8th grade language arts class, and even the “shocking twist” is more likely to elicit yawns than gasps. I’m not sure what he, director Karyn Kusama, or Theron herself were thinking, but all of them should be swatted on the rump with a DVD copy of Fujita’s “Lady Snowblood,” have their noses rubbed in the metric ton of negative reviews this movie is going to receive, and be made to sit in the backyard until they learn never to make turds like “Aeon Flux” again.
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