Film genre in need of a ‘learning virus’

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Film genre in need of a ‘learning virus’

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It's the near future. Someone caught between dreams and reality escapes from a computer system or governmental structure to chase after freedom. It sounds like a great idea for a science fiction movie, but plenty of films have started with this appealing idea and ended up overlong, pretentious and dull: “Logan’s Run,” “Gattaca,” and “Solaris,” to name a few. Alas, “Code 46” is the latest entry in this subgenre.
This version has been updated to reflect globalization. The omnipotent system in question is The Sphinx, which decides who has “cover” to live in the safe cities and who must take their chances “al fuera,” on the outside. Everyone in the world speaks a bizarre creole of English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese, and people take “viruses” to learn languages and change behaviors. Since many people are born through cloning and artifical insemination, everyone must get genetically tested before having sex, and Code 46 prohibits sex between anyone with 25 percent or more of the same genes (this should apparently mandate inter-special sex ― I have a feeling that isn’t what The Sphinx meant).
Tim Robbins plays William, a married investigator who has taken an “empathy virus,” which allows him to read minds. He's called in to Shanghai to find which Sphinx employee has been smuggling out fake cover cards. His intuition detects the guilty party immediately ― Maria Gonzales, played by Samantha Morton, the crew-cut “precog” in “Minority Report.” But instead of reporting Maria, he turns in someone else and has an affair with her. She claims to have seen him in her dreams. But since he only has 24 hours of “cover” in Shanghai, he has to return home.
Because he has arrested the wrong person, the fake cover cards keep showing up, and he has to go back. He then learns that Maria has had a forced abortion because of a Code 46 violation ― she has the same genes as William’s mother. The two plot their escape, to the “free port” of Jebbel Ali in the Middle East.
Robbins is unusually bland in the role, and there is little chemistry between him and Morton. The passion that should motivate them to throw away their lives for each other is nonexistant, suffocated by constant mellow electronic music and blank faces. Even while they're committing their act of forbidden love, there’s more tension at the chess board in the hallway.
The film’s one saving grace is that its globetrotting means that the backgrounds are always interesting. The dizzying highways of urban Shanghai, constantly shot from a surveillence camera’s point of view, are an effective contrast to the desperation of the desert and the lively streets of Jebbel Ali. In fact, this is the second film I’ve seen in as many weeks that I wish spent less time with its uninteresting main characters and more time on its unnamed but alive passersby.
“Code 46” tosses in a bunch of interesting elements ― a global travel computer, “learning viruses,” a globalized language, an Oedipal love affair made possible through cloning. But it’s a tasteless mixture of mushy dream sequences, acting and music. A few street scenes of passing interest aren’t enough to spice up an all-too-familiar science fiction plot.


Code 46
Science fiction / English
92 min.
Now playing


by Ben Applegate

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