"Aeon Flux" stars two Academy Award winnersCharlize Theron (2003's "Monster
") and Frances McDormand (1996's "Fargo")and two Academy Award nomineesSophie Okonedo (2004's "Hotel Rwanda
") and Pete Postlethwaite (1993's "In the Name of the Father")and still did not offer press screenings for critics. This clearly signaled that trouble was afoot last week when Paramount Pictures cancelled all early screenings, offering some laughably flimsy excuse that critics don't give much love to the sci-fi genre anyway. If the studio was being honest, they would have said that critics don't give much love to crap and called it a day.
Based on a cult 1995 MTV anime series, if "Aeon Flux" doesn't quite match the outright disaster one might be fearing, that isn't to say it's actually good. A half-hearted, clumsily-developed, no doubt over-budgeted fantasy actioner, the film is an interminable bore for the first hour, and then suddenly becomes mildly watchable with the appearance of a part-intriguing/part-derivative plot turn. As artificial and emotionally stagnant as the cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (2003's "The Recruit
") and production design by Andrew McAlpine (2003's "The In-Laws
") are glossily idyllic, the picture flops around like a helpless fish out of water, garners a last-act burst of energy, and then finally dies, evaporating from the viewer's mind as quickly as it entered it. For fans of the MTV episodes and promos, the big-screen, live-action adaptation of "Aeon Flux" may be worth seeing for curiosity alone. For everyone else, it joins the infamous company of 2004's "Catwoman
" and 2005's "Elektra
" as yet another crummy action film that just so happens to involve a female butt-kicker.
Set four hundred years after a deadly virus wiped out 99% of the world's population, life as we know it in the 25th century consists of a single surviving city-state named Bregna, where the offspring of the epidemic's survivors reside within a walled, quarantined bubble. The land, long ruled over by the powerful Goodchild dynasty led by Trevor (Marton Csokas) and Oren (Jonny Lee Miller), has prompted a radical rebellion group known as the Monicans to attempt to overthrow them. Enter leather-clad tough cookie Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron), a Monican who is assigned this very mission soon after her beloved sister, Una (Amelia Warner), is brutally murdered. Aeon's journey in infiltrating the booby-trapped Goodchild property finally leads to her coming face to face with Trevor and learning some dark hidden truths about her past.
Directed by the unlikely Karyn Kusama (2000's "Girlfight"), "Aeon Flux" is a hodgepodge of half-baked existential ideas and incomprehensible fight sequences that appear to have been edited together with a chainsaw. Besides failing at setting up of a fully thought-out portrayal of what life is like in Bregna and how the society operates, screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (2001's "crazy/beautiful
") commit an even more fatal sin: they don't give us a protagonist worth caring about. Aeon is a dull, morose heroine, a one-dimensional cipher whose foremost area of audience interest is in her skimpy futuristic outfits. Furthermore, it is never understood just why the Monicans want the Goodchilds out of power, thus negating whatever stakes there might have been in Aeon's fight to take them down.
As the title character, Charlize Theron delivers what is easily her worst performance to date. The usually great Theron is so wooden throughout, in fact, that the only reasonable explanation is that she knew she was in a cinematic dog and didn't even bother to try. Surrounding Theron is a group of high-caliber talents equally adrift in mediocrity. As fellow Monican Sithandra, Sophie Okonedo acts with her hands (the ones in the place of her feet, not at the ends of her wrists), while Frances McDormand is unintentionally hilarious as Handler, the mystical boss of the Monicans. McDormand's role literally consists of her standing in one spot and spouting asinine dialogue, all the while sporting the most over-the-top case of bed-head ever glimpsed on film. Her every appearance is funny, and for all the wrong reasons. There are a few agents in Hollywood in desperate need of being fired.
"Aeon Flux" is so crushingly monotonous for so long that the final third genuinely surprisesnot because it is that outstanding, but because it introduces some provocative thematic notions about life and death and wrings out a couple of visually compelling images. The scenes involving the memorial vessel that forever looms in the sky over the city, cloth streamers hanging underneath that Aeon must climb up in one of the film's only exciting set-pieces, are atmospheric and suggest what the film could have been with a better screenwriter and editor. Regrettably, these glimmers of inspiration are passing, at best. "Aeon Flux" is pleasing to the eye, but stinks in the same way flatulence does and has the nutritional value of Pop Rocks. The waste of talent and money thrown into this cheesy, haphazard production should be a criminal offense the world over.