Guy Pearce is my favorite actor, so I try to watch everything he does … which is a bit of a chore. He’s an A-list talent with the tendency to take D-list VOD titles. For every Traitor, we get a Disturbing the Peace. For every Ravenous, we get a The Seventh Day. For every Iron Man 3, we get a Bloodshot. What I’m saying is that Pearce is a multi-threat artist who also isn’t afraid to cash a check by starring in bullshit once in a while. And the bad stuff he’s in? It’s often far beyond his ability to save. Such is the burden of being an ardent fan, which leads me to Zone 414, a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi thriller about the morality around artificial intelligence that features Pearce’s most phoned-in performance to date. It is nearly unwatchable, and were it not for my Pearce fondness, I’d have shut it off at the halfway point.
I hate to say this because the script is written by Bryan Edward Hill. I know Hill from his work in the comic-book realm. He’s a talented writer with a lot to say, and Zone 414 tries to express some initially intriguing ideas about artificial intelligence. In the story, Zone 414 is the only place androids are allowed to freely interact with human beings. Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel in reprehensible makeup), the creator of androids, built them to be companions to humans; yes, it dives right into the living sex-doll thing. But Zone 414 is something of a testing ground for what they can become. It’s a gritty place where various people strive for relative power.
Unfortunately, Veidt’s daughter has gone missing inside Zone 414, so Veidt hires private detective David Carmichael (Pearce) to enter the zone and rescue her. David is a straight-talking, no-bullshit kind of lawman who needs the cash but refuses to cross ethical boundaries. He’s a pragmatist, though. He’ll get the job done.
Pearce sleepwalks through a film shot as sleepily as its star. Low-budget science-fiction is difficult to pull off well, and for what it’s worth, director Andrew Baird and crew build an effective-enough facsimile of a rundown, grungy future. It has enough smoke and neon to feel like an early-1990s ripoff of Blade Runner, which is preferable to the smoothness and clean-future stylings of post-iPod ripoffs of Blade Runner. Is grunge returning? I hope so. Even if everything looks like a set, at least nothing feels too trapped in green-screen.
But back to Pearce. I don’t blame him for disengaging from his role as a thankless protagonist in a story full of characters who spout exposition while little else occurs. There are some good lines here and there; one character refers to Zone 414 as “a fine solution to Mother Nature’s fuck-up inside the core of humanity.” But as a whole, the film feels soulless, slow and meandering. Good ideas crop up and are swiftly extinguished, and the utter lack of humor just makes it feel like even more of a slog. I’m a faithful fan of Pearce and will follow him wherever he goes, but Zone 414 represented the biggest challenge to my devotion to his work. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.