Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Indie Multiverse Theory: Parallels Is An Unimpressive Opening.

The Good: Basic plot/mystery, Decent effects/direction
The Bad: Sound issues (fallout), Mediocre (at best) acting, Ridiculous characters
The Basics: Parallels is a poor film and could have been an interesting television show, had it been written and performed better.

When I was a kid, there was (briefly) a television show called Otherworld. I have a vague recollection of the show - its pilot episode and maybe one or two of the episodes that followed - and it stuck with me. It was the story of a family that journeyed to an alternate Earth through, if I recall correctly, a visit to the pyramids. The series that followed was their attempt to find a way home. I mention this at the outset of my review of Parallels because part of the challenge of making a science fiction movie now is making the viewer believe in either the savvy or lack of savvy of the characters involved.

Parallels notably fails to do that. In a world where science fiction films have mined topics of space exploration and time-travel, one has believe that most protagonists in films with a contemporary setting are hip to the basics of parallel universe and time travel theory. Parallels is an indie film in the vein of +1 (reviewed here!) or Project Almanac (reviewed here!) where (fortunately) the direction is a bit better than most indie films. Christopher Leone seldom relies upon shaky, hand-held cameras to make the film feel frenetic or dangerous to the characters on screen.

Boxer Ronan is called home after a boxing match by his estranged father and he is confused when his father is not at the house they once shared. He encounters his sister, Bea, while there and they realize they have both been given the same message. Seeing their neighbor, Harold, outside fighting with his mom, they decide to check the trunk of their father's car where they find a bag. Rescuing Harry from his nagging mother, they go to the building the Carver father told them to go to. Inside, they find graffiti about conditions on various Earths (with other numbers after them) and while they are in the building, a light pulsates.

Ronan, Beatrix, and Harry step out into a world where their city has been reduced to rubble . . . and then grown over. Witnessing a murder, they run back into the building, where they meet Polly, who explains that the building has transported them to an alternate Earth. Polly knows that the building deposits its occupants in an alternate universe every thirty-six hours and advises them to sit tight. Unfortunately, the building is invaded by local militia members, who abduct the quartet and drag them out into the shattered Earth. Tortured by Tinker, the young people do their best to escape before he detonates a nuclear bomb. But leaping to another universe in the building leaves the young group lost, looking for Alex Carver and trying to find a way back home.

Parallels feels a lot like the pilot for a television series, much the way 10,000 Days (reviewed here!) did. The acting is stiff like in a pilot, where the actors are unsure of their characters and uncertain in the direction of their overall arcs.

The story by Laura Harkom and Christopher Leone features characters who are ridiculously stupid. Harold is a lawyer, who is not particularly articulate. Moreover, the boxer who gets beaten in the face repeatedly seems to catch on to alternate universe theory faster than the lawyer. Polly is smart enough to have some working knowledge of the building, which acts as the parallel universe-traveling machine, while Beatrix is so stupid, she does not recognize her own birthday. Harry is obviously infatuated with Beatrix and uses her name and birthdate as his password, but Bea doesn't recognize the numbers after her name.

The result is a very average film with substandard players and an unfortunately generic villain. Tinker inexplicably follows the quartet into the building (despite being about to set off a nuclear bomb) and in the face of a new universe, he begins constructing a weapon, like a megalomaniac. As a result, the guy who initially seems like a victim of circumstance turns out to be a generic psychopath. The group is also pursued by extra-dimensional thugs who are searching for Carver and the film is not long enough to give them reasonable motivation or a sense of menace.

Parallels is led by Mark Hapka and Jessica Rothe, though it is Constance Wu who steals the scenes. Wu plays Polly and she is energetic, articulate and she plays the character of Polly as informed and experienced. Wu almost makes up for Eric Jungmann's painfully awkward body language. Jungmann plays Harold with body language like Sean Penn in i am sam (reviewed here!) and that makes it tough to suspend one's disbelief.

The result is a film that seems like the beginning of a franchise, but it lacks the talent and character to make one want to return to it for more.

For other works with parallel universes, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Donnie Darko
"Parallels" - Star Trek: The Next Generation


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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