Aeon Flux

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 12/25/06 23:22:26

"Should've just made an animated feature. Or left well enough alone."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Inaugurated as part of the trippy "Liquid Television" block of MTV in the early '90s, Peter Chung's "Aeon Flux" sped along stylishly and plotlessly. In its first short segments, the angular and deadly Aeon died at the end of every clip. Art objects in and of themselves, watchable in any order, the expanded 1995 episodes brazenly ignored any sense of continuity.

Chung's aesthetic -- anime by way of Egon Schiele -- couldn't be more different from that of Karyn Kusama, who wrote and directed the intimate independent film Girlfight in 2000. A gritty drama about a girl (Michelle Rodriguez) with deep anger that found expression in the boxing ring -- and worth ten of the mawkish Million Dollar Baby -- the movie found power in closely observed details like crude Magic-Markered signs in the gym, or overattended parties in neat but tacky homes.

I can't think of a good reason that we are now looking at Karyn Kusama's Aeon Flux, other than Kusama's previously stated jones to make a sci-fi flick, and the cosmetic connection of two-fisted feminism. On the evidence, Kusama is far better at evoking the real world than at creating a new one, and she's absolute rubbish at big action scenes. In her hands -- or, rather, in the oafish hands of screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi -- Aeon Flux becomes 2005's Matrix wannabe, and less intelligent and enjoyable than MTV's other transplant to the big screen, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. (B&B-H creator Mike Judge once said that the studio wanted a live-action Beavis and Butt-Head movie, with Adam Sandler and David Spade. That studio exec finally got his/her wish with Aeon Flux, which should've been an animated feature.)

Charlize Theron's Aeon Flux looks sensational in an early scene, wearing a veil that doubles as a cowl; the effect is both elegant and pulpy, like Gayle Hunnicutt's cat-suited, masked heroine in Georges Franju's Shadowman. Aeon curls tongues with a man in the street, receiving a mouth-to-mouth pill that takes her into a headspace meeting with a fright-wigged Frances McDormand. The unexplained freakiness of this is true to the tone of Chung's toon, though nothing else is. Aeon is on a mission to take down Travis Goodchild (Marton Csokas), the leader of a sterile, oppressive city circa 2415, where a surviving five million people live walled off from nature and are subject to periodic disappearances. The relationship between Aeon and Travis lacks the gnarled complexity it had in the animated series, and is rather too neatly capped by an underwhelming plot twist.

After Girlfight, which painted a picture with nary a white face without making a big point of it, how could Kusama be satisfied with a movie in which the pale, almost Aryan heroine (she even has a Hitler 'do at times) teams up with a black sidekick (Sophie Okonedo) who has hands where her feet should be -- like a monkey? This sidekick also betrays Aeon due to a misunderstanding caused by Travis' scheming brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) -- you just can't get good help these days. Aeon Flux has its show-stoppers, like a field of razor-sharp grass, but overall the script doesn't even try to duplicate Chung's art-school ingenuity. The cartoon was intended, in part, as a parody of empty, self-resolving action blowouts; Paramount, perversely or perhaps spitefully, has returned Aeon Flux to what it once transcended.

Maybe Charlize Theron wanted to glam up and kick ass. But she doesn't have Aeon's slinky physique -- no actress does -- so she just runs through her paces, sustaining a highly publicized spine trauma in the process, and for what? To become yet another femme action figure in a dumbed-down Saturday-night flick for teenagers? There isn't a hint of the actress who earned her Oscar for Monster in this blank performance (Theron has been better even in such crap as Trapped and The Astronaut's Wife). She's about the only eye candy on the screen; with ready-made storyboards from the show, the movie opts for schlock-deco architecture and uninspired costuming. By the time poor Pete Postlethwaite shows up in an outfit that makes him look like a pink raisin in a pickle jar, Aeon Flux has traded Peter Chung's iconoclastic incomprehensibility for big-studio incomprehensibility.

Guns go off, stuff blows up, and Karyn Kusama's voice, so loud and strong in "Girlfight," gets drowned out -- hopefully not forever.

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