By now, itís a well-known fact that if a studio hides a movie from critics, itís probably because the movie isnít very good. Although weíre only in March, we have already seen at least at least seven or eight such incidents in 2006 (including, but not limited to, Date Movie, When a Stranger Calls, Bloodrayne, Grandmaís Boy and Underworld: Evolution). What studios donít count on is that there are those of us who run out to see these films on opening day, then rush back to our offices to pound out a review anyway. To be fair, I donít do this hoping to trash a new release. On the contrary, I keep hoping one of them actually turns out to be good. (What can I say? Iím an underdog kind of guy.) Unfortunately, it hasnít happened yet, and the latest critical no-show, Ultraviolet, is sadly typical of what the studios donít want critics to see.
There is some semblance of an interesting idea here. Or at least there is according to the filmís website. Ultraviolet is set in the distant future, where a blood virus has claimed many victims. These so-called Hemophages have been, to quote the website, ďgenetically modified, giving them enhanced speed, incredible stamina, and acute intelligence.Ē I got the part about the virus on my own but didnít catch this other part while watching the movie, hence the website quote. The biggest problem is that all exposition seems to have been stripped away, but more on that in a moment.
As in all sci-fi films of this kind, a band of Hemophage rebels has formed to take on the government, led by the evil Daxus (Nick Chinlund). Our heroine is Violet (Milla Jovovich), who was genetically modified twelve years prior Ė an event that caused her to lose her unborn baby. She infiltrates government headquarters and intercepts a package, the contents of which are intended to wipe out all Hemophages. Despite orders from the rebellion leader to destroy the package, Violet decides to open it. Inside she finds a child named Six (Cameron Bright), whose blood, I think, contains another airborne virus that will kill the Hemophages. (If you wonder how the child fits inside the small package, join the club.) Violet fights off a lot of bad guys to save this child, even though heís meant to wipe out an entire subsection of the population, herself included. Why she does this is even more puzzling than how Six fits in the package.
There are so many problems with this ďplotĒ that I barely know where to begin. Actually, itís not a plot at all. Itís a concept Ė one that has been used over and over again. A rebel heroine taking on an evil government that has been playing God with genetic altering? We saw that as recently as last December in Aeon Flux. It also has similarities to 2002ís Resident Evil (which also starred Milla Jovovich).
Familiarity is not the problem, though. The downfall of Ultraviolet is that itís all second act. There is no beginning to the story and no end, just middle. The film does a lousy job establishing a future world where the fear of a deadly virus has taken hold. Thereís a brief mention of the situation in some voiceover narration, and you see a few background extras walking around with surgical masks over their faces, but you never get a sense of any real threat. The character of Violet is also woefully underdeveloped. Her back story is handled in a 45-second flashback/voiceover combo when, to be effective, it should have taken up at least the first 15-20 minutes of the story. Hereís a woman who lost her child due to the governmentís plan to contain the virus. Sheís angry and hell-bent on revenge. Thatís interesting, and had the movie followed up on it, we might have actually cared about what occurs next.
Like I said, the beginning is completely missing. And because the set-up is so badly bungled, there is no payoff at the end. Ultraviolet just kind of stops, and we are left with no interest in what has happened because we donít really understand what has happened. Itís shocking just how incoherent this film is. Rumor has it that the studio ripped Ultraviolet away from writer/director Kurt Wimmer and did their own cut. This certainly feels like one of those cases where big chunks of the movie are missing. Itís almost like they cut out everything that wasnít an action scene. What weíre left with is a non-sensical, hard to follow assemblage of action, completely devoid of any context. Further adding to the disaster is the fact that most, if not all, of the dialogue seems to have been dubbed in later. Quite often the dialogue is out of sync with the actorsí mouths.
Itís possible that this might have been an interesting project at one time. The intention was clearly to produce something that was a combination of a kung fu movie, a video game, and Japanese anime, with a dash of Barbarella thrown in. Visually, Ultraviolet is kind of cool. With its pastel tint, psychedelic sets, and video game special effects, itís clearly not supposed to be realistic. The moment that most shows the potential in Wimmerís film is the one where Violet rides a motorcycle up and down the side of a skyscraper while being fired at by a helicopter. For those brief few minutes at the beginning, I thought that this might be a fun futuristic romp.
Then again, some of the ideas are just plain bad, like the fact that the villain wears a giant nose plug throughout the film to protect him from airborne viruses. Itís kind of hard to fear a dude who walks around with a metal stopper jammed up his nostrils. Maybe this little detail would have made more sense in the context of the story. Unfortunately, the story (if indeed there was one) has been excised and thrown away, never to be heard from again.
( out of four)
Ultraviolet is rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action throughout, partial nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.
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