Friday, June 8, 2018

Future World (2018) Review

I really wanted to like James Franco, until I really didn’t. For a while there was something about his adventurous, experimental approach to acting and later producing that I started to develop a begrudging respect for even as it produced some pretty spectacular failures, not the least of which being his infuriating turn as the gun fellating white rapper named Alien from Harmony Korine’s offensively terrible Spring Breakers. Still, his willingness to make bold, unexpected choices when he was in a position to coast on safe mainstream roles was a refreshing thing to see, and it seemed like with last year’s The Disaster Artist the pendulum had finally swung far enough in the right direction for me to officially call myself a fan. And then we found out he created an acting school seemingly for the sole purpose of exploiting his mentor position over young aspiring actresses in order to groom and eventually sexually assault them. So yeah, fuck James Franco, and fuck his new movie Future World even more.

It would be very wrong and incredibly inappropriate for me to even suggest that Future World is somehow a worse crime than Franco’s many actual crimes, but its close enough that its in the conversation, which is troubling in its own right. Future World feels like The Asylum, the company famous for producing mockbusters like Transmorphers and Snakes On A Train, decided to make a rip-off of Mad Max Fury Road three years too late and somehow got a few name actors involved to provide it some semblance of legitimacy. Actually, you know what, that’s being too generous, because I actually saw the Asylum mockbuster they did for Mad Max at the time, called Road Wars, and while on its own it was just a mediocre post-apocalyptic zombie movie, what little I can remember of it is still far better than anything I just saw in Future World. Literally the only thing I remember about Road Wars is a scene where a character tells a story about parlaying one of the last Snickers bars in existence into a blowjob, and I’m standing by my comparative assessment. That’s how bad Future World is

Normally I devote the second paragraph of my reviews to a brief description of the plot, just to provide some context to refer back to, but I feel like I don’t even need to do that with this one. Watch the trailer, and you know every thoroughly underwhelming thing about this movie. Its just every post-apocalyptic sci fi trope you’ve seen a million times in a million better movies, vomited onto the screen as rote and predictably as possible with no twists, turns, subversions, or stylistic flourishes to speak of. Even as a straight forward, un-ironic take on the genre it fails miserably, giving us barely any story to engage with, populated by some of the most thinly written characters I’ve seen in a movie for some time. The main lead whose name escaped me mere seconds after the movie was over is a naive ingenue in a world where such a thing would seem impossible, and his main motivation is to go from point A to point B and back again to find a medicinal macguffin, which he does, and then the movie’s over, which is only notable because as shallow as it is, it is the only thing remotely resembling character motivation in the entire film.

For a movie like Future World to work at this point given how oversaturated we are by post-apocalyptic fiction, the details of the world building and the characters within it need to be made interesting enough to transcend the well worn setting. Movies like Fury Road with its insane over the top action sequences or Turbo Kid from the same year with its fun retro 80’s videogame aesthetic give the audience something fresh and new to satisfy them even as so much feels familiar. Future World doesn’t even bother to try to innovate in any way, with the exception of one fight sequence late in the movie that seems to want to do something novel, attempting an unbroken tracking shot bouncing back and forth between several characters mid battle, but half way through it becomes clear that they weren’t able to maintain it or cleverly hide the edits when they couldn’t, so they just decided to do the same badly edited gimmick a second time right afterwards. Even the title is lazy, which I assumed going in was meant to be a deliberate oversimplification, maybe to poke fun at the genre and hint at a satirical take on it, but now I’m forced to assume it was the only title they could think of to describe a movie that fails to distinguish itself as much as this one does. It is set in a Future World I guess, but there’s nothing else to it, so that’s the only thing they could think to call it.

What little world building we do get is both incredibly uninspired and all over the place. The movie starts with the first of many laughably ponderous bits of completely unnecessary narration going through just how the world got to where it is, with three successive apocalyptic disasters (an android uprising, ended by nuclear war, and followed up by a mysterious plague), none of which are really all that consequential to the story beyond providing a needlessly convoluted backdrop that we could have probably just assumed was something really bad if it was left ambiguous. It reminded me of the end of the first Maze Runner movie, which spends the whole running time building the audience up for the revelation of this great mystery, and then we find out it was some combination of solar flares, zombie viruses, and government conspiracies, only for it to just end abruptly so we can deal with it all in the rest of the franchise. But at least that was a cliffhanger. Future World starts there and then spends the entire movie not getting to anything resembling a point. To call it an exercise in futility would be an insult to futility.

And for the record, I don’t bring up Franco’s disgusting personal life just to kick a man when he’s down. Knowing what we now know about him, watching him play a virulent misogynist who lives to sexually dominate women is like if Kevin Spacey’s last pre-MeToo movie was a biopic of Jerry Sandusky. The sexual depravity in this movie is gratuitous and gross even independent of Franco’s character, and not even in that way that can make exploitation movies fun if they lean into the silliness of it. A post-apocalyptic pimp played by Snoog Dogg (ney Snoop Lion) runs a stripclub/whore house in the desert because of course he does, and the women all wear sci-fi shock collars that might have been justified if they were maybe brought back as a plot beat later on, but it never is brought back, because nothing is set up or paid off in this movie. Its just feels rapey as a substitute for edgy. The first scene in which we see Franco appear has him raiding a secret facility designed to house the last of a line of human like robots, and it just so happens to be an attractive female who is kept standing up naked for Franco to creepily grope at before programming her to be his sex slave. There’s no narrative reason for why she has to be naked, and ultimately no narrative reason for most of the things in the movie, with the most charitable explanation being that they saw naked androids in other media like West World and just thought it would look cool, and the least charitable reason being, well, James Franco.

Other than the main character’s flimsy excuse for a hero’s journey, I could not figure out what anyone wanted in this movie or why they did the things they did. Franco’s zeal to get his robot back after it’s stolen suggests a grander scheme that I was waiting to pay off in the third act, but it never comes, and he spends most of the movie just driving around sand dunes on a motorcycle and screaming. Steve McQueen infamously threatened to walk off the set of The Great Escape out of boredom, only to be placated by a last minute change to include the iconic motorcycle chase, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the opportunity to get paid riding dirt bikes was similarly Franco’s only reason for taking this role. Milla Jovovich provides one of the only highlights of the film, turning in a wild-eyed crazy performance as a secondary antagonist and employing talent rarely demanded of her in the Resident Evil series, but as fun as she was, I never got a clear sense of who her character was or why she needed to be there, except maybe to give Franco more time to play with his motorcycle. The worst example is Ash, the robot, who starts out as a remote controlled femme fatale, until she randomly decides to rebel against her programming and join the hero, suggesting she might have free will and in one particularly ham-fisted scene in an abandoned church maybe even a soul…except when its narratively convenient for her to become evil again for a last minute fake out, after which she just randomly leaves the movie having fallen in love with a character we knew for all of ten minutes, now on a mission to find more of her own kind, despite having never expressed any desire to do this throughout the course of the movie.

Its somewhat fitting that so much of this horrible Future World is devoted to the haphazard thought process of an artificial intelligence, considering how much of it feels like it was written by a computer algorithm trying to approximate an actual screenwriter. If you fed every bad straight to video Mad Max rip off from the last three decades into a procedurally generated story program, you’d still probably get something more worth adapting to film. Chances are you weren’t planning on watching Future World, if you’d even heard of it before reading this review, but on the off chance that you happened upon the trailer and saw something in its punishing blandness that somehow suggested to you there was some reason to see it, do yourself a favor and skip it. It’s the kind of movie that’s bad enough to count as one of the worst movies of any given year, but almost certainly won’t register on my list when the time comes to make it, not because there are necessarily ten other worse movies, but because its also so boring that I will almost certainly forget it even existed by December.

And in case I wasn’t clear enough - fuck James Franco. Before he fucks you.

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