Review: ZONE 414, Derivative, Uninspired Sci-Fi/(In)Actioner

Travis Fimmel, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz and Guy Pearce star in the science fiction thriller, directed by Andrew Baird.

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Review: ZONE 414, Derivative, Uninspired Sci-Fi/(In)Actioner

To copy Blade Runner or not to copy Blade Runner.

Apparently, that is the question that any filmmaker, regardless of talent, skills, or experience, faces when they decide to take a deep dive into into Blade Runner’s singular, seminal, genre-defining combination of futuristic, rain-soaked dystopia, neo-noir, and doomed romance. It’s a decision only the most ambitious, most self-confident of filmmakers should make.

Even then, they probably should give their decision a hard rethink and probably move on to their next best idea (if any). Unfortunately, no amount of rethinking would or could save writer Bryan Edward Hill (Titans, Ash vs the Evil Dead) and director Andrew Baird’s (Rebirth, Star) flaccid, derivative, ultimately unengaging sci-fi/actioner, Zone 414.

Hill and Baird’s film centers on the generically named David Carmichael (Guy Pearce), a one-time cop and detective turned cash-strapped private investigator. Sound familiar yet?

In the first scene, Carmichael enters the corporate offices of mega-billionaire and android manufacturer, Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel, delivering a bizarre, off-kilter performance from under pounds of latex), and dispassionately dispatches a replicant-style android, Jaden (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), despite her pleas for empathy. Carmichael essentially passes a (non) empathy test administered by Veidt’s slippery psychologist brother, Joseph (Jonathan Aris). Passing the (non) empathy test without even a moment’s hesitation gives Carmichael what he wants: An audience with the elder Veidt at Veidt’s sprawling, verdant mansion located outside the city limits.

Veidt gives Carmichael a seemingly impossible task: Locate and extricate Veidt’s rebellious, wayward daughter, Melissa (Holly Demaine), from the “Zone 414” of the title, an experimental, government-sanctioned “city within a city” that permits humans and androids to coexist and freely mingle, primarily so the former can sexually exploit the latter under the assumption that androids don’t have the self-awareness, sentience, or agency shared by their human betters in a capitalistic world ruled by profit and self-indulgence, an ideological stance that Zone 414 does little, if anything, to explore in any meaningful, thought-provoking way. For Carmichael, it’s just a job, a job with a potentially large payday that will leave him, if not outright wealthy, then relatively well-off enough to retire comfortably.

To help Carmichael Melissa, Veidt directs Carmichael to his greatest/proudest creation, Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz). Jane lives and works in Zone 414 as a high-priced escort, using an emotional intelligence far beyond other androids to provide her clients with a mix of therapy and sex. It’s an intellectually and emotionally unrewarding life for Jane, one that leads her into contemplating self-harm and even suicide (assuming that’s possible). Here again, Hill and Baird broach a potentially interesting idea (sex work, androids, and agency) only to sidestep it almost immediately and move on to Carmichael and Jane’s unlikely partnership in the apparently unhurried search for the missing Melissa.

The joint investigation takes the gruff, laconic Carmichael and the slightly more verbose Jane to a few stops by Zone 414’s lone yellow cab (Baird repeatedly returns to an overhead shot of the cab going and coming from parts known to parts unknown). When Carmichael and Jane aren’t riding in a yellow cab, they’re walking and talking to and from the next stop in their investigation, usually at an incredibly slack, urgency-free pace. Even when an interview with a sleazy, android-exploiting subject threatens to take a turn for the worse, promising action and possibly some much-needed blood and gore, Baird immediately pulls back, delivering glaring disappointment in return.

Some of Zone 414’s many shortcomings are likely the result of Baird trying to stretch a slim, almost nonexistent budget and trying to create a Blade Runner-like world, failing each and every time, but he’s not helped by Hill’s derivative, unoriginal script, faux-pretentious dialogue, or a story far too dependent on medium shots of the performers exchanging dialogue in neon-lit interiors or exteriors and not enough action.

By contemporary standards, Blade Runner would be considered light on action, but by Zone 414’s, it’d be the exact opposite, a Tony Scott- or Michael Bay-style actioner. It’s nothing if not woefully short on action or ideas, though, leaving a game Pearce and Lutz desperately floundering as they try to imbue their respective performances of Carmichael and Jane with a measure of realness and believability.

Zone 414 opens in movie theaters and on-demand today (Friday, September 3, 2021).

Zone 414

  • Andrew Baird
  • Bryan Edward Hill
  • Travis Fimmel
  • Guy Pearce
  • Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz
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Andrew BairdBryan Edward HillGuy PearceJonathan ArisMatilda LutzTravis FimmelZone 414Matilda Anna Ingrid LutzSci-FiThriller

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