Will the last person to leave ‘Aeon Flux’ please turn off the lights

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Aeon Flux
MTV/Paramount, 2005
Starring Charlize Theron, Martin Csokas
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Rated PG-13, 136 min.
Sci-fi/Action

Is Hollywood so desperate for story ideas that it needs to mine surreal two minute animated shorts?

“Aeon Flux”, the onscreen adaptation of the MTV cartoon of the same name, is an ill-conceived project. The original cartoon involved a lot of explosions and surreal imagery with some sort of female agent character running around causing havoc and dying. There was only a loose story and very little dialogue.

Aeon Flux is the name of a female agent (Charlize Theron, “Monster”) who works for a subversive group called the Monicans in a dystopian future. It seems that around 2011 a virus kills off 95 percent of the earth’s population. A guy named Goodchild finds a cure and the 5 million survivors moved into a big-walled city called Bregna.

Four hundred years later, Bregna is run by the Goodchild dynasty, which does horrible things such as making people disappear and covering up the real reason everyone in the city is sad. Flux is sent by the Monicans to assassinate their leader, Trevor Goodchild (Martin Csokas, “The Bourne Supremacy”), but her mission is derailed when they recognize each other and succumb to an inexplicable attraction to each other.

The film, in spite of its absurdity, actually has some things going for it. Visually, the film is consistently interesting. Bregna is a bizarre concrete metropolis of geometric shapes and wide open spaces. The people wear peculiar clothing and sport strange hairstyles. The Handler, Aeon’s boss (Frances McDormand, “Fargo”) has some of the most outrageous hair ever seen, a mixture of ringlets, dreadlocks, and bed-head. A lot of the technology in Bregna is interesting looking, although it seems a little impractical. For example, in one scene Aeon bombs a big pool of water that seems to be some kind of surveillance device. The cinematography compliments these visuals nicely, and a lot of the film is imbued with an appropriately dreamy quality. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were unable to carry this stylization throughout the entire film. It frequently drops its visual style and looks like a TV movie.

Officially, Aeon Flux is supposed to be an action movie. Unfortunately, the action scenes seem to be an afterthought. The film rushes through them as though it can’t wait to get to its next surreal futuristic imagery. The choreography is uninspired and barely up to action television standards. The fights are choppily edited and have nothing to distinguish them, save for one moment when Aeon brutally rips out an opponent’s earring. Instead of relishing and fully exploring its action sequences, “Aeon Flux” goes through the motions because it’s obligated to.

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The film’s biggest failing is the people in it. The characters are cardboard cutouts. In a futuristic action film, cardboard cutouts are okay if the actors can bring depth to them. Unfortunately, the actors in “Flux” don’t. Charlize Theron’s Aeon comes across as a watered-down version of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. Sophie Okenedo (“Hotel Rwanda”), who plays Aeon’s colleague Sithandra, is downright ridiculous. Her performance is all squints and puckers and looks a little like Ben Stiller in Zoolander.

Notable actors McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite (“The Constant Gardener”) are present, but their roles are so small they’re practically cameos. The only actor whose performance is the least bit interesting is Johnny Lee Miller (“Mindhunters”) as Oren Goodchild, Trevor’s brother. The distinguishing factor in Miller’s performance is the fact that he speaks at a brisk clip in a movie where everyone else keeps their delivery at a slow, deliberate monotone. I suppose this is to show us how grave and depressed everyone is in the future. It’s main effect is to make the viewer sleepy.

In spite of its boring characters and lackluster action, the movie itself just barely escapes being boring. There’s a bizarre technology or surreal visual every five minutes or so, which makes the film consistently diverting if not actually engaging. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t rrecommend that anyone see this movie.