To paraphrase — and risk getting sued by — the fine folks at Master Card, one digital camera: $1,000; some primitive digital effects software: $800; a good screenplay…priceless. For proof, one need look no further than director and multi-hyphenate Jason Tomaric’s ambitious do-it-yourself science-fiction epic, “cl.One.” That’s because it’s not his film’s videography or shoestring special effects which ultimately undermine the film; neither of which are that bad, by the way, and probably hold up much better if one were to catch “cl.One” on the tube when it comes out on DVD. Nor does the acting, “Dr. Who”-ish set design, or “Logan’s Run” costuming sabotage it. Instead, it’s the film’s rather boilerplate plotline, which somehow gets needlessly convoluted and mangled into a confusing muddle.
In essence, a nuclear war that virtually wiped out mankind has rendered the remaining humans incapable of breeding. Now a mere 100 years later, the world is a vast, ruined irradiated wasteland, except for a couple of isolated outposts of civilization. Somehow, in a world that bombed itself back to the Stone Age, these islands of humanity are thriving, futuristic Walt Disney wet dreams, complete with high-speed monorails, pulse laser rifles, and yes, even flying cars.
It’s in one of these enclaves, New Athens, that Chancellor Derek Strombourgh, a conniving and ambitious politician, overseas a plot to repopulate humanity using clones, and indeed, thousand of embryos lay in stasis deep in the bowels of the city. There are only two problems Chancellor Strombourgh must overcome if he’s to achieve his dream. First, is finding a human contributor with the perfect genetic make-up, whose soul the government can tap to provide life to its synthetic embryonic citizenry. The second obstacle is the mysterious colony of have-not rebels hell-bent on foiling the Chancellor’s plans.
Simple enough, except that Tomaric manages to overburden his storyline with a ton of needless techno-babble and write ’em-as-you-go plot twists and hurdles. Not surprisingly, not even the Chancellor’s droning narration/plot exposition can help clarify a world that was ill defined to start with, and grows ever-more muddied with each increasingly tedious moment.
If it ain’t on the page, as the old saying goes, it ain’t on the stage, and that’s especially true of “cl.One.” It’s really a shame that this is the densely ponderous disappointment that it is, too, because it’s clear that this was a labor of love for Tomaric. To be honest, the film features better than expected acting, cinematography, art direction, and even wardrobe for such a no-budget affair. Unfortunately, however, phrases like “better than expected” and “decent for the amount of money he had” just don’t cut it anymore. All an audience really cares about is what they see on-screen, and the sad fact of the matter is that what’s on-screen in “cl.One” just isn’t very good.