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- Reviewed Format: Wide Theatrical Release
- Rated: PG-13
- Stars: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow
- Writers: Scott Frank, Jon Cohen, based on a story by Philip K. Dick
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Precrime does not pay
By MICHAEL TUNISON
June 21, 2002
MINORITY REPORT poster
© Twentieth Century Fox
Based on a story by Philip K. Dick (whose work previously inspired BLADE RUNNER
and TOTAL RECALL
), with AAA-list star Tom Cruise's name above the title and reigning Hollywood emperor Steven Spielberg in the director's chair, MINORITY REPORT
has genre flick credentials on a level most big-screen ventures can only dream of. The mere fact of Spielberg and the hands-on hit-maker Cruise's planets coming into alignment represents the closest thing to a guarantee of crowd-pleasing blockbusterhood possible at this point in movie history these are gentleman who know what they are doing, understand their own strengths and limitations, and don't miss the mark very often.
Unfortunately, that guaranteed minimum level of watchability is about all the fun the polished but strangely hollow sci-fi thriller MINORITY REPORT
delivers. While elements such as the film's effects, production design and choice supporting cast combine to create an unusually convincing vision of the near-future, the first-class technical stuff can only go so far in disguising the ordinariness of its fugitive-on-the-run core storyline and how surprisingly close Spielberg and company come to muffing up even that.
That's a shame because the basic hook of Dick's tale is one of the most thought-provoking sci-fi concepts to come down the pike in a while. Set in the year 2054, MINORITY REPORT
envisions a society in the process of being transformed by "precrime," an experimental law enforcement technique in which psychic "precogs" are able to predict the worst crimes ahead of time. Reports from the precogs give police the chance to arrest offenders before
they commit murders, rapes and other violent acts. As a result, Cruise's precrime unit chief John Anderton and his administrative boss (Max von Sydow) have been able to virtually eliminate such crimes in their Washington, D.C., jurisdiction.
A classic haunted cop type due to the still-unsolved disappearance of his son years earlier, Anderton is the fiercest defender of the controversial precrime program clearly he believes it might have saved his boy from whatever tragic fate befell him. This stance soon has the protagonist butting heads with a wily federal investigator (Colin Farrell from HART'S WAR
) whose aggressive examination of the Washington precrime unit has enormous political significance as the nation debates whether or not to start using the system across the U.S.
But the theoretical arguments about the reliability and morality of precrime suddenly become all too personal when an alert from the precogs names Anderton himself as the perpetrator of an upcoming murder. In a matter of minutes the cop finds himself on the run from both Farrell's character and his own highly trained unit as he desperately tries to figure out what's going on. Has he been set up by an enemy of the precrime program? And who is the mystery man he's supposedly going to kill?
If the above sounds pretty cool, it is in terms of the story's initial setup, anyway. The precrime concept is one of the most original to drive an action-thriller since the original TERMINATOR
, and when you add in Spielberg's usual mastery of roller-coaster action, Cruise's comfort level at playing this kind of stock hero character, and the enticing model of Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER
, it's no wonder expectations are sky-high among fans on this one.
Alas, Scott Frank and Jon Cohen's MINORITY
screenplay is no BLADE RUNNER
; for that matter, it doesn't even pack that much more storytelling punch than last year's Dick-derived IMPOSTOR
, a much-delayed and -panned release with a strikingly similar future-FUGITIVE
structure and a hero, in Gary Sinise's hunted scientist, a notch more compelling than Cruise's pretty-boy policeman.
's attention-grabbing first act sets the stage for a truly outstanding sci-fi action ride, its plotline turns disappointingly formulaic just when things should be heating up when Anderton goes on the run. The routine whodunit (whowilldoit?) plotline that emerges doesn't build up much dramatic momentum, while the villain pulling the strings from behind the scenes is painfully obvious early on.
MINORITY REPORT poster
© Twentieth Century Fox
Particularly disappointing are various story logic problems unworthy of a Spielberg production. Much emphasis is placed on the idea of precrime going national after its D.C. experimental phase, so imagine a viewer's surprise when we learn that the entire system seems to rely on the particular talents of the strongest of the precrime unit's trio of precogs (Samantha Morton), the potential loss of whom could shut down the entire system. Are we expected to believe an entire national program of precrime investigation would be instituted based on the particular talents of an irreplaceable young woman? Similar head-scratching moments include the point when a civilian character has no trouble walking into a high-security facility for housing dangerous criminals and pulling off an unbelievable caper.
In an uncharacteristic display of quirky self-indulgence, Spielberg devotes precious screen time to strange detours such as the hero's stay with a black-market surgeon (Peter Stormare) he hires to give him a new pair of eyes an aid to escaping detection by the city's ubiquitous retinal scanners. The gratuitous moment when a blindfolded Anderton munches on then disgustedly spits out maggot-ridden old food from a fridge in the surgeon's dirty hovel is straight out of a Z horror flick, and comes off as a strained attempt by Spielberg to darken his typical old-fashioned adventure serial style of thrill-making.
Though there is a great sequence with a group of spider-like mechanical probes searching for Anderton room-to-room in a flophouse, much of the action is likewise a bit underwhelming considering the film comes from the guy who directed RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
. A jet-pack-borne fight set piece is neither very convincing nor very exciting, and a chase through a futuristic car factory comes to a silly conclusion.
Importantly, the film doesn't delve as deeply as one might wish into the moral issues the precrime concept raises. After a bit of philosophic back-and-forth between Anderton and Farrell's characters early on, such heavy thematic stuff is pretty much abandoned a sad lost opportunity considering how dramatically the tension between security concerns and personal freedoms is being played out in the real world these days.
Cruise is his usual watchably intense self throughout, though as the wanted-man plot kicks in it becomes increasingly clear that he's not the ideal actor for this particular kind of film. While he's perfected what can only be thought of as the Tom Cruise genre (young man claws his way to the top of whatever it is he does, yelling at a lot of people along the way) and isn't too shabby when called upon to deliver ultra-cool cartoon glamour (the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
films), Cruise doesn't give off the easy identifiability that allows the audience to connect to this kind of hero-at-the-end-of-his-wits part (see the action work of Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington for some movie-saving examples).
Indeed, second banana Farrell has more of this sort of appeal than Cruise does, and the handsome young Irishman (to appear as the villainous Bullseye in next year's DAREDEVIL
) comes darn close to stealing the spotlight from the superstar of Hollywood superstars in their well-played scenes together.
Too much of the slickly made MINORITY REPORT
works too well to dismiss the film outright, and the concept of precriminal investigation proves intriguing to the end. But the way Spielberg misses with the action-thriller spine of the story, just a year after his artistically far more ambitious but similarly unsatisfying A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
, suggests the director of E.T.
and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
may have lost some of his feel for science fiction at least the harder-edged, futuristic sci-fi he's attempted in his two latest films.
Or maybe it's just that gasp! the quality of the screenwriting really can
make or break a movie like this, even when it's directed by the most successful filmmaker of all time. It's enough to make you think about JAWS
(name those films' principal screenwriters off the top of your head, if you can!) a whole new way.Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at email@example.com.