The ghost of “Blade Runner” casts a long, gloomy shadow over sci-fi dystopias, all but defining what we think our hellscape future looks like — dark, rainy and overrun with attractive human-looking robots.
They didn’t spend any money on the “rainy” part in “Zone 414,” a half-hearted half-speed no-budget “Blade Runner” knock off.
Guy Pearce, who turns up in so many of these sorts of C-movies that we wonder about his tax bills, child support payments or Bob Dylan/Nicolas Cage mania for constant work to keep whatever demons he has at bay, stars as a private eye sent to track down the missing daughter of a tech billionaire.
The twist? The technology the billionaire (Travis Fimmel, ridiculously over-the-top) developed was androids — skin-covered robots designed for the fleshy pleasures of the super rich and lonely. His daughter Melissa ran off, he figures, to the one “zone” where such semi-sentient machines are allowed to freely interact with humans, Zone 414, aka “Robot City.”
He hires David Carmichael, scarred and callous, an ex-cop who’s seen it all.
“Did you regret what you did?”
“I live with what I did.”
He’s been hired because “I know what’s alive and what isn’t.” That will be handy, as the missing Melissa fled to a place where she was set on passing for an android pleasure bot.
Carmichael, whom we’ve already seen turn a deaf ear to an android (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) reasoning with him and pleading with him to punish the real villains and spare her. We’ve seen him shoot and dissect her as well. He must be the perfect guy to wander into this zone and start asking questions.
“When you don’t like to answer questions,” one pervy habitue (Ned Dennehy, the stand-out in this cast) purrs, “you quickly learn to not ask any.”
His tourguide through this shadowy world is Jane, the scantily-clad popular new model of digital prostitute. She’s played with an emotionless (she’s a machine, remember) drone by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz of “Revenge.”
“Why does a machine have an apartment?” Carmichael wants to know, as she’s got fancy digs.
“So that the machine forgets it’s a machine!”
Carmichael must follow her, visit her pimp Roy “short for Royale (Olwen Fouéré) and question the tech tycoon’s shrink-brother (Jonathan Aris, oily and quite good) to get to the bottom of things. Pearce and Lutz have the trickier task of having to make us care — about any of this.
The performances vary wildly in terms of “convincing” quality. The production values, envisioning a “future” with humanoid robots, pistols with silencers, antique reel-to-reel tape recorders and Ford LTD taxis, is consistently “off.”
But the dialogue in this Northern Irish production has a nice zing to it. A pervy villain’s explanation for his “type” crackles — “I have a penchant for...damaged things.”
Roy asks a rhetorical question — “You know what rich people want? EVERYthing!”
Yet any time one thinks “Well that line lands a punch, that scene crackled,” the drifting narrative and occasional achingly-bad scene brings the picture to a halt.
The dialogue and character “types” might have been what sold Pearce on this production. And as a rule, one never turns down a working vacation in Ireland — northern or southern.
But as “Zone 414” grinds to a gear-crunching halt, one does wonder what Mr. Pearce was thinking, what bills hang over him or what demons send him scurrying back before the camera, losing himself in another bad no-budget movie because the alternative is the threat of getting lost again in one’s own thoughts.
Rating: R (Nudity|Language|Disturbing Images|Some Drug Use|Violence)
Cast: Guy Pearce, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Jonathan Aris, Travis Fimmel, Colin Salmon, Olwen Fouéré and Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Credits: Directed by Andrew Baird, scripted by Bryan Edward Hill. A Saban Films release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:38