400 DaysReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/16/16 23:36:48
SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FESTIVAL: Looking at the cast of "400 Days", it's hard not to think something along the lines of "why are you doing this? You've got steady work as superheroes on television, so you don't need this sort of paycheck job!" The production schedule doesn't actually live up, but the point remains that most everyone involved has got to have much better things to do.The 400 days in question are practice for a manned mission to Mars; astronauts Theo (Brandon Routh), Emily (Caity Lotz), Bug (Ben Feldman), and Dvorak (Dane Cook) will be placed in an underground bunker and given simulated tasks to run and problems to solve. For an extra bit of drama, Theo it's hung over at the start because of the bender he went on after Emily broke things off. Soon after "take-off", they lose all communication with the outside world, adding even more tension to what is already a tense situation.
The trouble is, that situation is never really tense. Writer/director Matt Osterman does just about nothing to indicate why Emily and Theo might have broken up, not even indicating that Theo drank to excess other than that one time. Just hearing that Emily is the woman who broke Theo's heart may change the way that the audience looks at their scenes, but the viewer can't be expected to do all the lifting here. Beyond that (and a half-heated attempt to stir up envy via Dvorak hitting on Emily and being rebuffed), there just isn't much going on in the bunker. Dvorak It's kind of a jerk who starts seeing things, but there's no sense of time going forward or relationships changing as the occasional Day X subtitles jump ahead.
That leaves the situation that gives the movie its title functioning as little more than a way to build the "what's happening outside the walls?" mystery, but Osterman makes little of that. The most likely explanation is given so casually by people that every other scene in the film pushes the viewer to distrust that it will be dismissed, but it doesn't matter. This whole situation pushes the characters from scene to scene, but does so in utterly random fashion - it doesn't test the crew, it doesn't lead to them solving a mystery, it doesn't present a unique apocalyptic situation for them to explore.
It's a lousy situation for the cast to be in. As noted above, they're a group of people that the main audience for a science fiction film like this has seen in better roles - even leaving out what they're doing as part of the televised DC universe, Caity Lotz was great in The Machine and Brandon Routh was not the problem with Superman Returns - and they serve as little more than familiar faces here, not wooden but not interesting. Tom Cavanagh embarrasses himself when he shows up. Dane Cook doesn't stray far from his familiar jerkish persona, but at least "Dane Cook" gives Dvorak some sort of personality.
It doesn't help that the movie just feels cheaper and dumber than something made by and with professionals should. The bunker isn't an interesting place visually, and placing it in the middle of a field without any sort of fence or nearby building where the experiment can be monitored makes no sense. At one point, a guy wearing what is basically a spacesuit asks someone why the second person thinks he came from a ship. When someone says "nobody knows we're here" when the movie basically opens with a press conference, it's fair to wonder how many generic sci-fi scripts had pieces cut out and assembled into this mess.Which, again, leads to the question of why anyone involved bothered. "400 Days" doesn't add anything new to its genre, doesn't impress with either high-end production values or do-it-yourself improvisation, and Cavanagh's bizarre performance is the only place where anybody in the cast dives into a role (whether to entertain or just to be remembered when a better opportunity comes along). I suppose people need to work and companies need technically new material, but that's no reason to actually watch the result.
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