Reviews of CGI-heavy, stylized, futuristic movies often use the phrase "looks like watching someone playing a video game." For Simon Hunter’s The Mutant Chronicles, I'd adjust it slightly, yet it's an important difference - "looks like someone else watching an AWFUL video game cut scene." Actually, video games usually look better than this, one of the most bizarrely-designed films I've seen in a very long time. Combine some of the most misguided design decisions in years with dialogue (“Any last words?” “Shut the f*** up.”), plot, and characters out of an Uwe Boll film and you have a definite misfire from Magnet/Magnolia. Perhaps that's why The Mutant Chronicles is only opening in a few select cities this Friday, is currently available On Demand, and already playing on HDNet Movies. Not that any of those things are the kiss of death. Several great films have had an exclusive HDNet Movies airing in just the last few months (including Timecrimes and The Great Buck Howard). But the lack of a national release for a film with stars as big as Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, and John Malkovich says something. And that something sure isn't positive.
The Mutant Chronicles is about... zzzzzz. Honestly, a plot of a film has rarely been so difficult to recap. As the film's seemingly interminable opening narration was going on and on about warring empires after the next ice age, I had practically checked out of the film already. Basically, it's another post-apocalyptic action film, this one loosely based on a role-playing game. The film takes place in 2707. Of course, we've totally effed the planet up by then and the only four empires left in the world are constantly at war. But that's not even really the plot. During one of these wars, an ancient machine is unearthed that turns people into mutants. Cool X-Men-esque mutants that look like Anna Paquin? No, gross, slimy mutants who appear to enjoy killing. The mutants take over the world and a few soldiers, led by Thomas Jane and Sin City’s Devon Aoki, are assembled to take it back. An ancient book about the release of the enemy and the end of the world gives the film its name. An oddly-and-inconsistently-accented Ron Perlman as a man of faith, a half-asleep John Malkovich as a leader in a cameo-sized role, and Thomas Jane as the head of the soldiers destined to stop the mutants all help give the film its B-movie weirdness.
And that's the best word for The Mutant Chronicles. It's weird, weird, weird. The film has been washed of most of its color, but unlike the mostly black-and-white aesthetic of Sin City or The Spirit, director Simon Hunter has left mostly the blues, grays, and browns (with splashes of red for blood, of course). Imagine a wartime scene, set in a rain storm, viewed with a pair of khaki shorts over the lens and clearly shot on a stage using green screen. This thing looks ridiculous now and, in a few years, when green screen technology is even more improved, it’s gonna like it was made it 1982.
There's enough quirkiness to the plot, dialogue, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek performances by the talented cast to nearly turn The Mutant Chronicles into a "so-bad-it's-good" B-movie thrill ride, but the film is so drab to look at that it's impossible to get over it. The film looks like Sky Captain but without the intentionally nostalgic style of that film. Most damagingly, the inconsistent look is an awful fit for action scenes. Not only are the action scenes poorly staged but the dull aesthetic makes them literally difficult to follow. I actually longed for more cheesy dialogue sequences because the action was so hard on the eyes. And at nearly two hours, the film drags like a funeral dirge when it needed to be briskly paced to even possibly work.
Perlman, Jane, Malkovich, Devon Aoki, a unique style, and mutants - how could this possibly go wrong? Order The Mutant Chronicles on demand or risk seeing it in theaters and count the ways for yourself.
Rating: HALF BONE
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: April 17th, 2009
Starring: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Devon Aoki, Sean Pertwee, Benno Furmann, John Malkovich, Anna Walton, Tom Wu, and Pras
Director: Simon Hunter
Writer: Phillip Eisner