Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Humanity Bureau (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: In the not-too-distant future, as a result of severe climate change, economic collapse and civil war, the United States has become a near-barren wasteland. Noah (Nicolas Cage), an agent of the productivity-evaluating Humanity Bureau, is sent to inform farmer Rachel (Sarah Lind) and her son Lucas (Jakob Davies) that they are to be relocated to the New Eden colony. However, Noah soon finds out that the organisation he works for isn't all that it seems.
Nicolas Cage is unfortunately stuck in his working man’s grind, since he’s at the point of taking up pretty much any film offer he’s given just to pay the bills. This means that while he’s still making movies as readily as ever, there is a distinct lack of conviction to be found in most, if not all, of his latest features. This is no exception; you can almost see the running mantra of “pay check, pay check, pay check” going on behind his rather snoozy delivery here. Lind has been given the most potential for character (not actual character, bear in mind, just the possibility of one), and much like the writing backing it, there is little here that is of genuine interest; not even the chemistry between her and Davies draws any real attention. Hugh Dillon as what is essentially the hitman of the movie tries for quiet menace, but largely comes across like he’s letting his eyepatch do the acting for him. Yeah, bad guy with an eyepatch; this is the level of basic we’re working with here. Oh, and we have Kurt Max Runte as a German immigrant turned faux-American Indian, and quite frankly, there’s not enough bandwidth in the world to express how little I want to delve into that nugget of what-the-fuck. We have enough here as is.

So, this is an action movie… technically. It has shoot outs, it has a couple of fist fights and it even has some vehicle-led set pieces; the basics of the genre. However, this is embarrassingly lame as far as real action cred goes, as said scenes are not only few and far-between but also criminally underdeveloped. The shoot outs involve people standing right out in the open to make for easy targets, and you’ll be lucky if you see more than two camera angles during any of them. The fist fights, aside from being led into with some of the most jarring handheld camera work I’ve seen in a while, look like the actors just got back from an all-nighter in how lethargic they get. And as for the car chases… I feel dirty for even calling them that, given the filmmakers reach the point of having a random character just drive into the bad guys’ cars for no other reason than they needed to film a crash. This isn’t helped by how the car scenes outside of the action beats are atrocious, with the kind of green screen work that makes Old Hollywood rear projection look like the golden age of cinematic technology. Add to that the utter lack of tension or even pacing, meaning that there are no thrills to be had, and even the admittedly-fitting scenery starts to look wrong after a while.

Of course, since this is all so underwhelming in the first place, it ends up taking a back seat to the film’s bigger problem: The writing. Dave Schultz’ scripting here is both incredibly simple and rather lacking in a lot of the important areas. Since we’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic thriller, world-building is one of those areas, and outside of some opening plot exposition in plain text at the start, there isn’t much to be found here. Hell, when we get to the inevitable bombshell that this dystopian society is indeed a dystopia, the levels of sheer, uncut “da doy!” are staggering. Even for an idea that is well-worn in the realms of science fiction, like the government secretly doing away with large amounts of the population, it is given so little rationality as to why this specific deception is even required. And no, “we need to give them something to hope for” doesn’t explain how the film’s setup would lead to a need for population control.

This isn’t helped by the film’s attempts to be topical, as if Schultz and director Rob W. King were clutching at any form of relevance they could find to make this stand out, which are also very basic. Throughout the film, we keep getting hit in the face with various phrases and ideas that are meant to ring true for the audience: Global warming, financial recession, the term “wrong side of history” gets mentioned at one point, even an introductory scene with a former Trump supporter, complete with “Make America Great” poster and a framed picture of him with the human Jaffa himself. I'll even admit that the idea of the government killing off all those it deems not to be a "productive member of society" has a lot of potential to it.
However, all of these motifs are included without any of the real-world context behind them, like their mere presence is enough to make this have an actual point. Hell, it even gets to a point where these motifs work against the film’s apparent goals. Like, for instance, having the aforementioned Trump supporter talk in a wild frenzy about knowing “The Truth”, and then getting killed in his only scene. Considering this film’s use of global warming, a real-world issue that is seen as partisan to the Left nowadays, a scene of a Trump supporter being shot dead comes across like a bit of cheap catharsis. The same kind of cheapness that leads to Max Runte’s character to frequently mention that scavengers rape their victims, solely for the narrative sake of giving the woman and young child in the story a threat to be scared of. Classy(!)

But here’s the problem though: That catharsis backfires once it sets in that, in a sentence that would likely annoy most leftists, the Trump supporter turns out to be correct. The encounter between him and Noah is the starting point for the film's insanely obvious dystopian twist to be revealed. From there, the attempts to be topical reach an impasse where it becomes quite unclear what the actual message behind this thing even is. And bear in mind that this film’s simplicity doesn’t allow for a lot of nuance. What likely started out as a blind grab for easy commentary leaves this film as a story that doesn’t even know what it wants to say, let alone how to. And since the genre trappings of this flick are dry as a bone, that leaves this film with just about nothing to offer. Oh, and an ending that sets up a far more interesting story than the bulk of what we get here, only I seriously doubt anyone is going to care enough about this junk to make a sequel.

All in all… this is one of those films that I honestly regret having watched, even for a review. Not because it’s especially terrible, since the acting, ‘action’ and dialogue all reek of standard throwaway action-thriller fare, but because even attempting to write about films like this require me overriding the immense feeling of boredom in my brain form having sat through it. Even with Nicolas Cage’s status as a certified B-movie actor at this stage, one who is still able to deliver in utter garbage (I’d even recommend the previously-trashed Outcast for his performance alone), it’s safe to say that even the most die-hard Cage fans can safely skip this one.

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