By Christopher Null
Well, Cronenberg is back, and after a couple of misfires like Crash, M. Butterfly, and well, pretty much the last ten years of his oeuvre, he's got a solid flick with eXistenZ. In fact, I'd say it's his best work since 1983's Videodrome.
The story is straight outta modern/near-future pop culture: Using a "bioport," you can jack your body and mind into an immersive game world--a world served up by a handheld bio-engineered creature called a "game pod" that is essentially a blood-pulsing Nintendo. There are no computers in the film: just the mutated organisms that are Cronenberg's trademark. And oh does he put them to good use.
Leigh is Allegra, not an allergy medication, but rather the designer of the hottest games on the planet. And eXistenZ stands to be her masterpiece. The object of the game--as is the case with all games that become the centerpiece of movies--is to learn the object of the game. And in this instance, it turns out that some anti-game "Realists" are on Allegra's tail, so she has to head inside eXistenZ to ensure everything's kosher, with helpful Jude Law as a sidekick.
Or so we are led to believe. eXistenZ the movie quickly becomes a game within a game within a game within etc.... Not only are we unsure of what's real and what isn't, neither are the characters. Unfortunately, this conceit kinda gives away the whole film, making it overly simplistic and cliched for what I'd expect from Cronenberg, who visited this territory before in Videodrome. Frankly, The Matrix did it better.
Still, eXistenZ is a good ride. But eat before you come. The meals on display here are for presentation only.
Leigh wields a pair of deadly chopsticks.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 23rd April 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $2.9M
Production compaines: Alliance Atlantis Communications, Natural Nylon Entertainment, Serendipity Point Films, Téléfilm Canada, The Harold Greenberg Fund, The Movie Network, Union Générale Cinématographique
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 18
Cast & Crew
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh as Allegra Geller, Jude Law as Ted Pikul, Ian Holm as Kiri Vinokur, Willem Dafoe as Gas, Don McKellar as Yevgeny Nourish, Oscar Hsu as Chinese Waiter, Callum Keith Rennie as Hugo Carlaw, Christopher Eccleston as Seminar Leader, Sarah Polley as Merle, Robert A. Silverman as D'Arcy Nader, Kris Lemche as Noel Dichter, Vik Sahay as Male Assistant, Kirsten Johnson as Female Assistant, James Kirchner as Landry, Balázs Koós as Male Volunteer, Stephanie Belding as Female Volunteer, Gerry Quigley as Trout Farm Worker