Movie Review: Put on your headphones, hear conversations from the past via “Soundwave”

All you need to make science fiction cinema is some conventional gadget, dressed up and re-purposed as your “device,” a good gimmick for what that device delivers and some villains who crave that device for nefarious purposes.

No. You don’t need to remake “Dune.” Again.

“Soundwave” deserves points for being sci-fi on a budget, at least in that regard joining such indie sci-fi fare as “Primer,” the more famous “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Cypher.”

The gimmick here is “He’s invented a way to listen to the past,” so there’s something of that Dennis Quaid film,  “Frequency,” in it. And the gadget is some sort of repackaged oscilloscope, with a showy pair of headphones (No, Dr. Dre, there’s no listening to the past via “Beats”).

But the movie is kind of a shrug, really. There’s little pace, allowing the peril our hero faces to evaporate. The low-tech solution to showing how our young inventor/hero “hears” past conversations, blurry freeze-frames, sometimes taking up more screen time than the eye has the patience to sit through, is novel the first time we see it, annoying ever after.

And the the bloodless turn by the lead actor, Hunter Doohan (TV’s “Truth be Told” and “Your Honor”) lowers the stakes every minute he’s on the screen. I hate to pick on performers, but there was enough tension, action and “love interest” heart in this script for us to expect something to come of it all.

Nothing much does.

Ben is a tech whiz working for a failing radio repair shop, a kid picking up cash on the side whenever he’s summoned to a crime scene. His gadget can tell him, and through him the police, whodunit. Det. Macy (Vincent Nappo) is impressed, figures they should go into business together.

Actually, he knows a guy. But “John” (Paul Tassone) is so instantly villainous he should be twirling a mustache. The “game changer” might have John, or Frank or whatever name he’s going under, impressed. But he’s quick with the threats, the digs at Ben’s late father.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have something you don’t want anyone to hear,” is how Ben sizes up the heavy.

He’s constantly testing, always listening in — to break-ups and meal-orders, arguments and flirtations. He needs a little data about the time and geography of the chat, but he’s tinkering with the gadget, and not just using it to solve crimes.

He overhears a 911 call that sends him in pursuit of a pretty convenience store cashier (Katie Owlsey, who did writer-director Dylan K. Narang’s earlier film, “All I Need”). Covering for how he keeps her from getting too close to the edge of that roof is the best lying he’s ever had to do.

Ben is on the lam from the bad guys, and people he’s close to are getting killed. Naturally, he crashes at the suicidal woman’s place.

The “device” as plot device would work better if Narang had come up with more interesting things for Ben to overhear. The idea of trying to “hear” and learn about dead parents, which Ben presents as his impetus and which Katie yearns to try out?

Played.

The picture would have managed more suspense, just by putting this story on its feet and on the run. There’s a chase at the opening of the film, but the rest of it lacks urgency.

The film has atmosphere, gloom and a little tech-menace about it. But Doohan gives us little sense of fearing for his fate, and Owsley doesn’t raise the stakes, either.

The whole affair just fades, like a soundwave (contrary to the film’s “science”), growing fainter until that point where it decays altogether.

So congrats for making this on a shoestring, but even movies that cost nothing have to be about something, or about more than this.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, blood

Cast: Hunter Doohan, Katie Owsley, Paul Tassone, Mike Beaver, Vince Nappo

Credits: Written and directed by Dylan K. Narang. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:36

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