Sci-fi tries 

Theron in black rubber; cultish ‘Mirrormask.’

FLEXIBLE FLUX: Theron as assassin.
  • FLEXIBLE FLUX: Theron as assassin.

You’ve gotta love movies about future utopias. It says something about us that even when we try to imagine the perfect future, we can’t. Just behind all the white towers and floating cars, there’s always some evil conspiracy, wicked dictator or sinister scheme. There is, in short, always a serpent in our garden.

The latest example of the future-gone-awry movie is the cartoon-turned-movie “Aeon Flux.” While it isn’t going to win anybody any awards, it’s a likable enough little film, with twists on the standard future flick that will keep you guessing.

Set 400 years in the future, the film’s action takes place in the vast, walled city of Monica — the last city on earth, founded after a plague killed 99 percent of the world’s population just after the turn of the 21st century. The scientist who finally cured the plague, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Coskas), has set himself up as dictator-for-eternity via cloning.

Though the city may look beautiful and peaceful, there are dark goings-on behind the scenes. People have been coming up missing, and the secret police trade shots with a resistance force that counts Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) as their chief assassin. By way of a computer-based network implanted in the bodies of resistance members (a button under Flux’s skin takes her — somehow — to a whitewashed operating theater where Frances McDormand, wearing a black rubber dress and a red fright wig, gives her instructions), Flux soon gets her ultimate mission. It seems the resistance has figured out how to get through Goodchild’s incredibly tight security. Flux is told to go in and kill him.

With her sister recently killed by the secret police, Flux intends to carry out her mission with prejudice. Face to face with Goodchild, however, amid a sudden wash of flashbacks to moments she never lived, she’s captured. Eventually, a coup and a conversation with Goodchild lead her to re-evaluate her involvement in the resistance and her place in the world.

Theron is good here in a role that mostly calls on her to look good while doing kung fu in skin-tight leather — a little draggy and zonked out for my taste, but good. The problem for me is that the back story of “Aeon Flux” often left me feeling lost, as if there was a whole mythology to the film and characters that I was not privy to, as in the scene where Flux straps a rubber octopus around her waist and it somehow transforms Goodchild’s library into Goodchild’s super-secret mad scientist’s laboratory. Such trickiness, while interesting, threw me off a bit — just enough off balance that I couldn’t quite enjoy myself. Instead of the roller-coaster ride I was supposed to be on, I often found myself just wishing that the filmmaker had let me in on the gag.

In all, “Aeon Flux” is not exactly a waste of six bucks. It’s got spunk, which can be said of fewer and fewer Hollywood movies these days, plus a few clever twists on the old line (as in: a woman who has had her feet replaced with hands to make her a better killer and a fortress guarded solely by aggressive, genetically modified plants). Unless you’re a hard-core sci-fi fan, however — or simply interested in the many twists and turns of Charlize Theron’s very promising career — you might look elsewhere for a good time.

Though Market Street cinema is the place in town to catch deep, far-reaching films, you don’t see a lot of kids hanging out there.

That might change this week, however, with the opening of the film “Mirrormask.” A beautiful and strange film, with a 15-year-old protagonist and the same kind of down-the-rabbit-hole plot that drives movies and books like “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Wizard of Oz” and (most notably, in this case) “Alice in Wonderland,” “Mirrormask” is sure to fascinate adults and older teens, especially those who have cut their teeth on sci-fi and fantasy.

Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena, a prolific young artist who would rather lie on her bed all day and draw instead of performing in the small circus her parents own. After Stephanie fights with her mother, Joanne (Gina McKee), Joanne drops over in a dead faint, and is rushed to the hospital. The prognosis isn’t good, and doctors tell the family they will have to operate (though we never quite figure out what’s wrong with her, a nagging little plot hole). Helena blames herself.

That night, soon after climbing into bed, Helena finds herself whisked away — “Wizard of Oz” style — to a fabulous kingdom that seems to be based on her drawings. It’s a surreal place — with books that float back to the library if you convince them they’re unappreciated, inhabitants made of old shoes, and man-eating sphinxes that can only be satisfied with riddles.

Cool as it is, Helena finds that the kingdom has a problem: The queen is asleep, apparently enchanted by a princess from a neighboring dark kingdom — a girl who happens to look just like Helena. What’s worse, dark shadows are creeping across the land, turning anyone they touch into black glass. To save the queen and her mother, Helena and her reluctant guide Valentine (Rob Brydon) must go on a quest to find the fabled Mirrormask, which has the power to set things right.

That’s a long synopsis, but it isn’t half as detailed as “Mirrormask” deserves. This is a movie with “cult favorite” written all over it — too quirky for the majority, just quirky enough for the alternative comic book fiends. Written and directed by graphic novel and comic book artists Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, the world of “Mirrormask” has to be seen to be believed. Though the plot is undeniably hammy at points, this is mostly a film that begs to be looked at. Flickering, odd, sepia-toned, the movie reminds the viewer of the earliest films of Thomas Edison, and that’s even before the bizarre creatures of “Mirrormask” come onstage.

Sure, “Mirrormask” isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. If, however, you’re looking for something completely different this weekend, it’s a good bet.



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