eXistenZ Reviewby "David Wilcock" (david DOT wilcock AT btinternet DOT com)
May 9th, 1999
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law and Willem Dafoe
Directed By David Cronenberg
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
eXistenZ is a classic case of good idea, bad execution. The film opens with an preview of a new computer game called 'eXistenZ', where players are hooked up to the game via wires that go into their spinal column. However, during the demonstration, the creator of the game, Allegra Geller (Leigh) is shot at by an extremist anti-games terrorist group. Geller, along with P.R manager Ted Pikul (Law), flee, and are soon on the road together. They both eventually hook up into the game to make sure it's still working, and we join their adventures in the 'lifelike' world of eXistenZ.
eXistenZ has the potential to be an enjoyable action sci-fi romp which also plays with the audiences mind. However, this being an Cronenberg movie, any life the movie may have had is drowned in a message-filled mess. There's little tension, and the only entertainment the film brings come from the over the top violence that occasionally punctuates the movie. It's a shame, as there are some great ideas, including guns made from body parts and some eerie imagery. But the plot is static, and not much happens until the last 30 minutes were we finally enter the game eXistenZ.
The cast don't help the film much. Jennifer Jason Leigh, although usually an talented actress, seems bored with the film, and doesn't appear to do much. She mutters most of her lines, and appears to have no interest in what she's doing. She does look attractive, however. Jude Law is nothing but irritating: his wide eyed, 'where the hell am I' look does nothing but grate. Having two lead actors who don't appear to be interested in their roles doesn't help the film move along. The supporting cast have more fun: Willem Dafoe is fun as ever as an garage owner, and Ian Holm puts on a ridiculous accent as an game pod 'surgeon.' Fortunately, they are only 'supporting' actors, and barely feature in the movie. But generally, the cast do little to make the movie fun.
Cronenberg himself has problems with the film. Even with all these great gadgets and gizmos, Cronenberg seems more content _really_ fleshing out boring characters to the point of irritation. The game pods and organic guns, potentially fun gadgets that could be used much in the film, are sadly underused. Even the game eXistenZ isn't the most entertaining computer game in the world: it's certainly no Quake II. Cronenbergs direction only seems to work when dealing with the strange and gross, a reason why the The Fly worked so well. Again, in eXistenZ only the gross bits work: there's an disgusting scene in a Chinese restaurant, for example, that really works, and anything involving implantation or organic guns usually puts some life into the film. Other than that, the script, also by Cronenberg, warbles on, leading to an outrageously obvious conclusion and an hugely ambiguous ending that irritates beyond belief.
eXistenZ is terribly disappointing. Cronenberg had a potential winner, but it's just done so badly. The material desperately cries out 'action movie!' and is not suited to character study at all. There's very little meaning, and little to grab the attention. eXistenZ could well be the longest 90 minutes of your life, and unless you worship Cronenberg, eXistenZ is worth waiting for home video.
RATING=** OUT OF *****
A David Wilcock Review ©1999
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