Code 46 Movie Review

Meant to appeal to romantics and political flunkies, Michael Winterbottom's near-future allegory Code 46 is a well-made hodgepodge of Greek myth and think tank reveries. Told in his usual assured observational style, Code 46 is a marvel to look at: beautifully photographed in metropolis cities in the middle of the desert (labeled Seattle and Shanghai) and well acted by Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. But what it has in sensual ambiance, it lacks in cohesiveness.

The plot is dippy melodrama cloaked in politically charged keywords: corporate entities, genetic coding, the Haves and the Have Nots, multicultural whitewashing, language barriers, secret passports, checkpoints, homeland security. It's charged material, but Winterbottom transforms it into so much white noise. That's all right -- it provides a sheen that's nice to look at, and the keyword dialogue takes on a musicality when spoken by detective William Geld (Tim Robbins) and suspect Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton). But it's all a smokescreen meant to disguise a story about love found, love lost, and a tragic denouement made-to-order from the Oedipus legend.

When scraped clean of its doublespeak, Code 46 is a simplistic fable. Boy attempts to arrest Girl but falls in love, and we're meant to accept their love as the sublime thing that happens when two people make eye contact from across the room. (They call it genetics instead of fairy tales in science fiction.) The Boy agrees not to arrest the Girl, and they sleep together. This causes a chain reaction that forces the Boy to return to the Girl in order to finish his original job, and find out more than he bargained for. Since it's well-acted, well-photographed, and well-researched (with a futurescape as thought through as Minority Report), sleepwalking viewers may take it to be profound. No -- it's just hokum.

Some good scenes get to the root of modern ennui, though: the endless scenes of exhausted businessman Tim Robbins drifting through ultra-modern airports and hotel rooms has a chilling "glass house" impact, as do the scenes where he and Samantha Morton have eerily tangible sex scenes all about the concept of physical touching as the root of feeling -- and maybe empathy as well. "Tell me something about yourself," may be the most ambivalent come-on line of the year, an intrusive mantra that invites subjects to pour out some part of themselves, and establish a fascistic intimacy.

Jonathan Demme recently tapped into a hotbed of political paranoia with his first-rate The Manchurian Candidate, and told his story with the charged, no-turning-back intensity of a fever dream. The ridiculousness of the plot morphed elegantly with the madness of the main character (Denzel Washington), and the illusions of our corporate driven landscape of flashing lights, false directions, and well-told lies. The truth nowadays sounds like madness. But Code 46 isn't about questioning that madness. It only adds to the haziness -- and I suppose that happens when words like love get thrown into the equation. Love makes men do strange and stupid things; and love has led many a poet and filmmaker down the garden path to Hallmark inanity and romantic idealism. If Manchurian Candidate portrays confusion in a nightmare climate, Code 46 offers false and confusing answers that lead to dead ends. It doesn't provoke thought afterwards; just gestalt. And when the 92-minute gestalt wears off, then what?

Deleted scenes and a making-of featurette appear on the DVD.

The Winterbottom Code.


Code 46 Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2003


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