Friday, February 6, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

JUPITER ASCENDING: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, directed by The Wachowskis. (125 min.)

There are stages one must go through when they are dealing with a terrible movie that magically becomes greatness in its own whacked out way. The first stage is apprehension, which arrives when the lights dim and you are afraid of how bad the movie might actually be. Next comes realization, usually not long after apprehension; this is the point where you realize that the film is, in fact, garbage. The third stage is disbelief, as dialogue and actions fly at your face with such incomprehensible ineptitude that you simply cannot fathom what you are seeing. Stage three is often accompanied with "mouth agape" syndrome.

The final stage of the process is delirium, brought on by the film's unnecessary length and absurdity overwhelming you to a point where you laugh at times not indented to be funny. Eventually, the laughter comes fast and furious, and it gets audible in the theater by the end until you finally stumble back into the light of day, squint your eyes in the welcoming sun, and realize it is all over, and that it might have actually been worth it to see something so bad.

These four stages of the "so-bad-it's-good" affliction may not be more prevalent in any other time in my life than they were in Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowski's must have had a good time storyboarding the film and creating all of the elaborate visual sci-fi elements. Fun does translate to the screen, though not in the way I imagine the Wachowski's intended. There are some earnest attempts at a space opera here, but the absurdity overwhelms throughout, and one very special performance sends everything over the top.

Mila Kunis is the title character, Jupiter, your typical daughter of a Michael Bay-esque stereotyped Russian immigrant family who lives in a rundown Brownstone and cleans toilets for a living. Her and her mother and her aunt, or some other woman, have a cleaning business, but Jupiter seems to just clean toilets. This peasant of the planet is, of course, the reincarnation of a queen that rules the most prolific and wealthy family in the universe, the Abrasax clan, a family of three heirs who own planets and harvest them in order to keep their youth and live for centuries. The two male heirs, Titus (Douglas Booth) and Balem (Eddie Redmayne) are trying to get their hands on Jupiter for their own reasons, none of which are very clear because the exposition of the film is seemingly pieced together by a schizophrenic.

Enter Caine Wise, a bounty hunter (I think) who saves Jupiter from certain death and fights the entire film to keep her out of the hands of the Abrasax brothers. Wise comes with some pointy ears, tribal tattoos, and a pair of gravity-manipulating roller skates. I promise. Caine Wise is somewhat of an outcast, as the hero will often be, and he is a "splice" who was bred with a dog. "I am more like a dog than I am like you," he tells Jupiter, even though he looks like Channing Tatum with pointy ears and a blonde beard and nothing at all like a dog. He was cast out of wherever for biting a guy. Again, I promise this is the movie.

So here are Jupiter and Caine fighting against all these creatures and alien figures trying to get her, but with no real motivation clear enough to care about. They seek the help of an old friend of Caine, played by Sean Bean. He turns out to be deceptive, then not deceptive, because he is Sean Bean so why else would he be here?

When filmmakers iron out a sic-fi universe, they often times overload the screen with critters and characters to a point of saturation, to create a viable other world. This worked in Star Wars, when the idea was fresh, but now all of these extemporaneous characters are nothing more than a distraction. There are CGI lizards (why are they lizards? Don't lizards need heat and sun? They are in space), aliens who resemble the alien sightings we all know from this planet's history, and humans in makeup with no practical application to the environment. I kept wondering, why do these people look this way? What is the reason for their appearance? It doesn't matter though.

The film reeks of an over-edited studio production that was delayed, as this one was. There are large gaps in the story where exposition was undoubtedly cut out along with action scenes to shorten the picture. There is an early scene where the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago is destroyed, but Caine assures Jupiter it will be repaired in minutes. Cut to a scene of the building being repaired, seen through the back of a car window about 100 miles away. It's impossible to even see what's happening, surely there was a scene close up that was edited out. Later in the film, Jupiter arrives at one of the many set pieces and threatens the heir, Titus, with legal ramifications and tax laws he has broken. Only, there is no scene explanation as to how or when Jupiter learned these laws so precisely. Those are merely one of a handful of confusing transitions.

Then, right in the middle of the film, this queen of the most powerful planet in the universe has to have her identification verified, so she has to go through a DMV/State employee bureaucracy system that resembles an annoying journey you might have going through a county courthouse to pay property taxes or something. The sequence is so out of place, so satirical, and so entrenched in American-esque problems (remember, this is another PLANET in an entirely different SOLAR SYSTEM, not Brooklyn), I felt for a moment I was in the middle of The Fifth Element.  

And I have made it far enough before talking about the real star of the show, Mr. Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne plays Balem Abrasax, the most wicked heir to the Abrasax family. This is some kind of amazingly awful performance, an acting job so astoundingly absurd it might have Nicolas Cage shaking his head. Redmayne speaks with some sort of raspy whisper, and his voice shakes as if his character is always fighting off the flu. But then, out of nowhere, he will shout, his voice will crack, and he will flutter his hands. There are also those moments in the film when he is trying to be tough, but a swift knee to the groin or a gunshot will send him crumbling to the ground, screaming like a petulant 10-year old. It is an amazing, hilarious performance from Redmayne, one that deserves audible laughter who must be praying that Academy members don't stumble into a theater and check out this thing before making their final Best Actor vote for the Oscars this month. There are big gaps in the film where Redmayne is absent, and I think the Wachowski's realized the turd that was floating in the middle of their Jupiter Ascending toilet bowl and edited out larger chunks of his performance. Too bad.

I feel strange giving Jupiter Ascending any sort of letter grade, because it deserves all of them. So let's just say if gets an F for being truly awful, but an A+ for being awful enough to be amazing...