Saturday, November 15, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013) *

What a letdown! Based on reviews and a very cool premise, I had high expectations for “Snowpiercer.” Turns out it isn't even mediocre. This crapfest displays a mix of bad acting, gratuitous violence, and lame plot that suggest an utter contempt for the audience.

The cool premise is this: In the near future, humanity attempts to fight global warming by releasing some sort of chemical into the atmosphere. The stuff works too well, turning earth into a frozen wasteland. The only humans who survive are those who crowded onto an indestructible, globe-spanning train. It's never clear whether the train was built as a refuge from the cold or was already in existence. In any event, the last couple of hundred humans exist on this train, which circles the globe once a year, in a tightly regimented society. The folks at the front have good food and lux accommodations, while those at the back are overcrowded and filthy. Those at the front eat steak, while in the back they eat unappetizing protein bars and are given just enough to survive. Even worse, guards from the front come occasionally to kidnap some of the children for unknown purposes.

Under the leadership of Curtis (Chris Evans), the tail-dwellers plan a revolt. From the train's prison, they free a security expert, who helps them open the doors between cars one-by-one, as they work their way forward to the engine.

It was that intriguing premise that drew me to the film, and for the first twenty minutes or so, the film seems poised to deliver on it, as the tail-dwellers plan their attack. The film gradually falls apart, however, as neither the back story nor the actions of the characters make any sense. Even the concept of the train-as-refuge turns out to make no sense. I had assumed that this must be some super-fast train that circled the globe in one day to stay in the sun and avoid the devastatingly cold nights. It turns out, though, that it circles the globe once a year, which means there is no conceivable advantage to having the train keep moving. Even if we make the ludicrous assumption that this train is more resistant to the cold and weather than all the military bunkers and bomb shelters on earth, it would still make more sense to just park the thing somewhere near the equator at a low altitude, and just run the engines to generate heat and electricity.

Even if we accept this moving train concept, the characters' actions also exceed the limits of my suspension-of-disbelief. Curtis witnessed cannibalism in the early days on the train, but he acts horrified to learn that the protein squares are made from bugs. After some of Curtis's fighters are hurt in a huge melee, he leaves almost his entire fighting force behind to continue the advance. When he finally gets his hands on some guns and live ammo, he squanders them ridiculously. The security expert's daughter turns out to be clairvoyant, but after figuring that out,Curtis makes no further use of her skill. It's a dumb plot that forces the characters to do dumb things.

I wish I could point to a single performance as providing a bright spot in the film, but in this turd, even good actors look bad. Ed Harris plays Willard, the God-like conductor, but his villain-explains-himself scene comes off as a weak parody of itself. Tilda Swinton plays her character with such bizarre mannerisms that she is hard to watch. Even Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is made to look ridiculous.

“Snowpiercer” left me with many unanswered questions, but the biggest one is, “Why did so many reviewers like this movie?” Yes, the film is “symbolic,” holding a dark mirror up to our own society of haves and have-nots, but so many other movies have done it so much better. If you want social commentary, watch Fritz Lang's “Metropolis” or the original “Planet of the Apes.” Unless you will be satisfied with a lame, half-baked action-fest, don't board the “Snowpiercer.”

1 star out of 5

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