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 Cypher
 Critic's Rating
   [C-]
 Date Posted
   17th October, 2004
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Cast: Jeremy Northam, Lucy Liu, David Hewlett
Director: Vincenzo Natali

There is an exceptional low-budget film called "Cube" that won over critics and audiences at the 1997 Toronto Film Festival. The charm of that sci-fi film is implicit is its dramatic story of strangers trapped in a dangerous labyrinth, whose only escape is by death or mathematical genius. "Cube" poses important provocations: Can the primal instinct to survive defy basic humanity? Will evil corporations tear away the flesh of modern society? Despite some minor character inconsistencies, "Cube" fires on all cylinders of imagination. "Cypher" is another sleek film made by the same director, Vincenzo Natali, but this is where all similarities end.

Constructed on a weak foundation of borrowed ideas from great films such as "Dark City" and "Total Recall," the first casualty is originality a prerequisite for any science fiction yarn. But that is the least of "Cypher's" problems; convoluted storytelling, poor pacing and bad acting adds more to make less. In all fairness to director Natali's sharp sense of design (the film looks gorgeous for its mediocre budget) I believe the real culprit is the humdrum screenplay by Brian King.

Jeremy Northam plays Morgan Sullivan, a bland accountant, recruited by a monolithic corporation called DigiCorp. to attend business conventions across American and engage in important reconnaissance. But there's something strange: Sullivan suffers from splitting headaches, nightmares and nausea.  He wakes up in strange places with no idea of how he got there; he also develops a taste for Cohiba cigars and single malt whiskey even though he doesn't smoke or drink. Could he be living someone else's life? Why should Sullivan believe the mysterious Rita (Lucy Liu in sleep mode) when she tells him that his life is in danger? Should he accept the offer of rival company Sunways to act as a double-agent and steal information from DigiCorp? If you're not confused by now, take my word, by the end of the film you will be; bored also you'll be because logic and reason are mercilessly thrown out of the window in favour of faux suspense and unnecessary emotional titillation. Another note - if the film falls apart with its preposterous plotting then it burns into cinder by a corny romance.

You could say that "Cypher" is cut from the same cloth as "Cube." There is stark claustrophobia; isolation; paranoia; corporate espionage; and a delightful cameo by one of the characters from "Cube." But it lacks the appetite, the wit and skill needed to make an engaging science fiction film. And you don't need a critic to tell you that this makes making comparisons seem even more unfair. - Adnan Khan

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