Sunday, 13 July 2014

RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Phillip K. Dick adaptation ends short run @ The Royal

It's Dashiki Day in Outer Space. Come one. Come all.

Is it Sarah Jessica Harper?
Nope. It's Alanis Morrisette!
Radio Free Albemuth (2010) **
Dir. John Alan Simon
Starring: Jonathan Scarfe, Shea Whigham, Katheryn Winnick, Scott Wilson, Alanis Morrisette, Hanna Hall

Review By Greg Klymkiw

We will be saved by a man in a dashiki. He will be blonde and he will be beautiful. He will be Nicholas Brady (Jonathan Scarfe), a former Berkeley record store clerk who receives directives from aliens in his dreams to move to Los Angeles with pretty preggers wifey Rachel (Scarlett Johansson lookalike Katheryn Winnick). There he becomes a record company executive and with the help of his science fiction novelist buddy Phil (Shea Whigham) and a long-faced, toothy subversive (Alanis Morrisette), Dashiki Boy attempts to overthrow the fascist U.S. President Fremont (Scott WIlson) by releasing a hit song with subliminal lyrics.

Yeah, right. Don't bogart that joint.

Based upon Phillip K. Dick's posthumously published novel, Radio Free Albemuth is set in an alternate reality during the 1980s wherein America is ruled by the iron fist of a Right Wing nut-bar and his team of KGB-styled agents and a Hitler-Youth-like organization called Friends of the American People. The film represents the life's work of director John Alan Simon who has toiled for several years to get his labour of love to an audience.

He needn't have bothered.

Radio Free Albemuth is the kind of low budget independent movie that gives its ilk a bad name. The picture is ploddingly earnest, boringly competent and suffers egregiously from a low budget that reduces its lofty ambitions to a series of endless dialogue set pieces in real world close quarters that makes the movie feel ludicrously underpopulated and where its otherworldly flip side is drained of all dramatic investiture by special effects so dreadful that they aren't even pleasantly laughable, just bad. Whatever ambitions this work might have had are blunted by its cudgel-like attempt to extol the virtues of activism in a manner that reminds one of the sequence in John Carpenter's They Live where Rowdy Roddy Piper insists that Keith David wear the special glasses to see the truth. If you can imagine that scene running for 110 minutes, but without the over-the-top fisticuffs, then you'll have some idea of how it feels like to watch Radio Free Albemuth.

I love science fiction movies that place the emphasis on ideas over mindless action - so much so that I want to credit Mr. Simon's movie for taking the high road. Unfortunately, there's something just too bland, lifeless and uninteresting about his plodding by-the-numbers approach that does the material a major disservice. Given that it's set in an alternate reality (and in the 80s, no less), the picture demanded some kind of post-modernist stylistic frisson to jettison us into territory we could embrace with excitement instead of rejecting with suppressed (and often, not-so-stifled) yawns.

About the best that I can say about Radio Free Albemuth is that as mediocre as it is, it's almost the kind of science fiction movie I'd happily take over the tedious Edge of Tomorrow. "Almost", however is the key word here.

Radio Free Albemuth is ending a very short run this week at The Royal Cinema in Toronto and playing spottily in similar engagements across North America.

Some of my favourite science fiction movies that favour ideas over action can be purchased directly from the Amazon links below: