Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Belko Experiement

2.5/4

Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer, Gregg Henry

Rated R for Strong Bloody Violence Throughout, Language including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use

I have no problem with dumb action movies ("Hardcore Henry" is a good example).  Nor do I have a problem with films that deal with weighty material at the expense of plot (witness my admiration of Martin Scorcese's box office bomb, "Silence").  It's always intriguing when a film marries the two types of films, which on the surface seem incompatible.  Then a movie like "The Matrix" comes along and strikes a huge chord and proves that taking a risk is usually preferable to the alternative.  "The Belko Experiment" seeks to join this distressingly small roster of films, but it's not quite successful.

Belko Industries is a company whose chief export seems to be dressing professionally and looking busy.  Even the workers aren't sure what they actually do.  It's just another day at the office in Columbia, and even with the change in the company's already impressive security, nothing seems amiss.  Wendell Dukes (McGinley) is all but stalking Leandra (Arjona).  Leandra and her actual boyfriend, Mike Milch (Gallagher Jr), are making out in her office.  Terry Winter (Yeoman) is bragging about his latest excursion with his family.  Peggy (Schwimmer) is joking around with her co-workers.  Nothing unusual until a voice comes on the speaker and says that if two people aren't dead in the next 30 minutes, many more will die.  Everyone thinks is a prank or a sick joke, but when people start dying and the building gets put on lockdown, it becomes quite clear that someone is playing a deadly game.  But who?  And why?

"The Belko Experiement" suffers from a disconnect between what's on the page and what's on screen.  Writer James Gunn appears to have written this screenplay with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.  As is usually the case, he both embraces and mocks genre conventions.  But director Greg McLean, who made the unsettling "Wolf Creek," plays it straight.  Perhaps he was more interested in the sociological aspects of it rather than the adrenaline or gore (both of which the film has in numerous amounts).  It's not a fatal mistake, but it makes the film seem...odd.

That's not to say that this is a bad film.  It isn't.  Far from it, in fact, since I almost recommended it.  The film boasts some nice performances, mostly from unknowns.  John Gallagher Jr is easy to root for; the role was written for him after he impressed Gunn while auditioning for another role that Gunn felt he wasn't a good fit for.  Gallagher plays the altruist, who advocates calm and reason in the face of terror and bloodshed.  Tony Goldwyn, no stranger to playing scummy characters, plays what has to be the first corporate executive who is not a complete psychopath.  He's the villain of the film, but he's no Gordon Gekko.  Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz and Rusty Schwimmer (who gets far too few roles) all provide solid support.

Venturing out of the theater, I almost gave this movie a 3/4.  On some level, I am still tempted.  But I just don't think it works.  Even at a hair under 90 minutes, the pacing sags during the middle portion.  The film's presentation is at odds with the screenplay.  And while the sociological aspects of the film are dealt with, they're nothing we haven't seen in other, better movies.  Ultimately, I kept asking myself one question: what's the point of it all?

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