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Immortal (Ad Vitam)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/19/05 01:41:03

"Wake me when it starts making sense."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

It doesn’t take long for viewers to realize that “Immortal (Ad Vitam)” is nothing but empty ideas. There are premises, notions, concepts, all of them interesting on their own, at face value. And yet there’s absolutely nothing here to hold any of it together.

The film is based on a popular comic series from French artist Enki Bilal, who also takes on scripting and directing duties here. Bilal has made two films previously - “Tykho Moon” and “Bunker Palace Hotel,” neither of which I have seen - and so, you would assume, would have the basic understanding of how to actually make a movie. Turns out, not so much. “Immortal” is as incoherent a story as you’ll ever find. But it sure is pretty.

The plot, from what I could gather, involves New York in the year 2095. It’s a dystopia that makes the L.A. of “Blade Runner” look like Mayberry: a ruthless eugenics corporation (cleverly called “Eugenics”) rules the world, people are upgraded with synthetic parts, those who aren’t are lowered in class status, and, worst of all, a big-ass pyramid has appeared floating high above the city. The hell?

Turns out that inside the pyramid are a few gods, and the dude-with-bird-head Horus (a CGI being voiced by Thomas M. Pollard) has been sentenced to give up his immortality and, in seven days, die. (No explanation on why.) He’s allowed to go hang out in the city for a week, and so he thaws out the cryogenically frozen Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann), who was sentenced to the icebox prison decades earlier for his political activism.

Meanwhile, there’s Jill (Linda Hardy), an amnesiac with white skin and blue hair who’s looking quite old for someone only three months old - which nabs the interest of geneticist Elma Turner (the what-is-she-doing-here? Charlotte Rampling), who hopes to unravel Jill’s mysterious past. Oh, and let’s not forget the string of serial killings, and the slimy bureaucrats who keep popping up, and…

Ya know, I give up. Bilal makes little effort to fully develop any single idea, nor does he really bother to cohesively tie any of these points together. When he does break down and give it a try, it comes out a royal mess - the entire middle act takes place in a gunky motel room, where Nikopol, possessed by Horus, keeps trying to have sex with Jill. And when he’s not trying to have sex with Jill, he’s having sex with Jill. And when neither of those things are happening, the three sit around, talking.

Which would be fine, I suppose, if: a) they were talking about anything that made sense, or, at least, was interesting; b) they used this time to further the plot beyond the overly simplistic “Horus must impregnate Jill,” a notion that takes ten times as long to unfold as it should; c) it did not abruptly end with a weak flying-taxi chase stolen right out of “The Fifth Element,” one of seventy better movies from which Bilal openly steals.

That’s a major problem here - while Bilal shows a great eye for nifty visuals, he also shows a complete lack of originality. Everything we see comes on loan from other sources, and the only fresh stuff he adds in on his own is stuff that just doesn’t hold up.

Major problem number two: it’s in English. Which might be OK, assuming that Rampling wasn’t the only cast member who spoke English. It turns out Bilal’s investors insisted on changing the story from Paris to New York, and from French to English, to help international sales. Yet Bilal also insisted on casting European actors who can’t handle the foreign language. (Hardy’s voice has been dubbed over by Barbara Weber-Scaff, although it’s just as dry and dull as Hardy’s stiff body language.) This is horrible acting here, people muddling through monotonous readings of badly written dialogue. For her part, Rampling’s good, though.

The biggest of all major problems: Bilal insists on making Rampling, Hardy, and Kretschmann the only actors in his film. The movie was filmed on a “digital backlot,” along the likes of “Sky Captain” and “Sin City,” allowing Bilal to create a wide CGI landscape. But backgrounds and effects were not enough, and so all other characters are also computer generated, looking like rejects from the “Final Fantasy” movie. Why Bilal chose this, considering that many of the characters are humans not needing the visual enhancement such computer work provides, is a mystery. The result, however, is not: a ridiculous visual mix of real and unreal that not once convinces the viewer. It’s like watching a third-rate Playstation game into which a few actual actors happened to wander by accident. The CGI should have opened up the movie’s world to greater heights; instead, it serves only as a distraction.

And with a script this sloppy and uninteresting, distractions are not what we need. I give “Immortal” extra credit for looking so good in random spots, and for having a few scenes near the beginning that show some solid promise. But that’s all it gets from me, other than disdain. “Immortal” is a movie that might have become a cult favorite, had anyone bothered to make it interesting. As it stands, it’s nothing more than a collection of imagery both compelling and laughable, with nothing around to hold them together.

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