The worst theatrically released sci-fi flick since "Battlefield Earth," "Equilibrium" is so blatantly derivative as to be insulting, so absurdly hackneyed it's hard to believe it's sincere, so full of scenery-chomping it's a wonder the actors don't weigh 300 lbs. by the closing credits -- and as a result it's such a laugh riot that it may well be the funniest movie of 2002.
The plot -- brazenly pillaged from "Fahrenheit 451," "1984" and "Brave New World" -- concerns a high-ranking government "Cleric" named John Preston (chisel-featured Christian Bale), a ruthless and deadly law enforcer in a "Metropolis"-styled dystopian future where emotions (and by extension, music, art, poetry, etc.) have been outlawed.
The populace takes twice-daily doses of a stupefacient called Prozium, but when passionless Preston misses a couple injections, has a confusing day of emerging feelings, then finds himself staring into the big brown eyes of a cute little puppy he's supposed to kill during a raid on a "sense offender" hideout (insert shots of famous paintings being torched with a flame-thrower here), he...just...can't...do it.
Instead he hides the puppy in the trunk of his car (a modern sedan discount-retrofitted to look laughably "futuristic") and embarks on a mission to single-handedly overthrow the system.
I am not making this up.
Right from the portentous and pretentious but utterly muddled opening voice-over that quite inadequately sets the stage, this movie is an embarrassment of unintentional laughs. The comic-book-military Nehru jackets, black gloves and slicked hair worn by Preston and his fellow Clerics are funny. The way dramatic shafts of light fall across their cold eyes whenever they say something important is funny.
The constant giant-video-screen barrage of ironically impassioned government propaganda is funny, not to mention nonsensical. Funnier still is the scene in which Preston is accused of being off Prozium and when he angrily bellows "I'm not feeling!," his superiors buy it.
Most hilarious of all are the many severely over-edited, slow-mo, "Matrix" rip-off, shootout-fu action sequences in which Preston kicks Orwellian ass with his tai-chi-based gun slinging, blade swinging and bullet dodging.
What isn't so funny is that very talented actors somehow got swept up in this B-movie bottom-scraper. Bale has been known to embrace cheesy movies before ("American Psycho" arguably, "Reign of Fire" certainly), and he's so good at ham-fisted performing that it's impossible to tell if he's taking this movie seriously or if he knows he's hip-deep in crap.
This is the second so-bad-it's-funny movie this year for Taye Diggs, playing a rival Cleric who may be forced to bring rebellious John Preston down. Most recently he was superb in "Brown Sugar," but be glad you didn't see the killer sorority bimbo bomb "New Best Friend."
The real question is, what are the illustrious Emily Watson ("Punch-Drunk Love," "Gosford Park") and Agnus McFayden ("Cradle Will Rock," "Titus," "Braveheart") doing here, playing a condemned "sense offender" Preston falls in love with and the autocratic world's maniacal head of state?
Writer-director Kurt Wimmer (co-writer of 1999's "Thomas Crown Affair" remake) must have been holding some serious blackmail material on his cast, because nobody in their right mind would sign on voluntarily after reading his ludicrous script, brimming as it is with sledgehammer symbolism (Nazi-like national flags), flagrant contradictions (if there's no emotion, why is there marriage?), simplistic plot devices (apparently an entire society can be brought to its knees by shooting a few computer screens), logical chasms (why torture and kill "sense offenders" when they could just be drugged again?) and insipid clichés.
Not a single frame of "Equilibrium" contains even a whiff of originality. If it's not imitating Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley, it's lifting scenes wholesale from "Metropolis," "The Matrix," "RoboCop," "Blade Runner," "Gattaca," and even "Citizen Kane."
But as "Mystery Science Theater 3000," that sadly defunct masterpiece of movie mockery, proved, there are bad movies and there are movies so bad they qualify as a popcorn-thrower's delight.
"Equilibrium" is the latter -- a cinematic disaster so inadvertently sidesplitting it's worth the price of admission for the ridicule factor alone.
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 26th February 2003
Box Office USA: $1.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $5.4M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Production compaines: Blue Tulip Productions, Dimension Films
Contactmusic.com: 0.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 32 Rotten: 52
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Christian Bale as John Preston, Taye Diggs as Brandt, Emily Watson as Mary O'Brien, Angus Macfadyen as Dupont, Sean Bean as Errol Partridge, Dominic Purcell as Seamus, Christian Kahrmann as Officer in Charge, Sean Pertwee as Father, William Fichtner as Jürgen, John Keogh as Chemist, David Barrash as Evidentiary Storage Officer, Dirk Martens as Gate Guard, Matthew Harbour as Robbie Preston, Maria Pia Calzone as Preston's Wife, Emily Siewert as Lisa Preston