“Freeworld,” according to the video sleeve, is a TV pilot “dramatizing the current struggle between the forces of global economic and cultural hegemony and the power of the individual.” Ya don’t say. It looked a lot more like a typical low-budget action comedy to me. This is the kind of disquieting disparity that arises between director Patrick Harrison’s intent, as summarized in the film’s propaganda, and what you actually get from watching the film.
It’s the year 2023 and the USNA — that’s United States of North America — encompasses the entire Western Hemisphere from the North Pole to the Darien Gap. (It’s near Panama. I had to look it up myself.) When a bug-eyed humanoid robot has gone AWOL, it’s up to Hiroko Doko (Shannon Wielk), a formerly fugitive military conscript, and her Barney Fife-ish partner Flick Hedwing (Peter Grier) to track it down. Ostensibly “aided” by a relentlessly cheerful talking box connected to unseen Big Brotherish controllers at Securinet, the unwitting duo must overcome their own mutual mistrust and Doko’s punitive electronic tracking collar. On top of that, there’s the Army of the 49th Parallel, a rebel band of Canadians, led by Zbigneuf DeBout (David Neall), that refuses to consent to American domination, in order to track down and return the renegade robot.
Harrison, an occasional contributor to “Film Threat,” handles the “tracking down the robot” part well enough. It’s a little confusing, to be sure, and most of the comedy falls flatter than Canadian Bacon (particularly BeBout and his Canadian rebels doing their French knights from the “Holy Grail” bit). But where Harrison comes up significantly short is in his attempt at sweeping social commentary. Here, it’s a classic case of his cinematic eyes being far bigger than his filmmaking chops. Harrison wanted to deliver a politically-charged satire bemoaning the loss of individuality in a world increasingly dominated by the likes of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. It’s a timely message, particularly in light of the recent WTO-inspired riots in Seattle.
Yet, this would be a hard act to pull off in a feature film, let alone in an underfunded 25 minute TV pilot. The almost inevitable result is a lack of any true on-screen sense of this intriguing future reality Harrison has created. Everything we know about this world we either read on the box or had it spoon fed to us by an opening text card or by Hedwing’s talking box. Lacking a true sense of their oppression, then, Flick and Doko’s angst-ridden monologues bemoaning the dearth of freedom simply gets lost in the woods around them. The unfortunate result is that, as ambitious as “Freeworld” is, it never quite rises above a typical running-through-the-woods action comedy.