Judge William Lee wonders if androids dream of playing Dungeons and Dragons?
The fate of the earth will soon be in the hands of one man.
Not silly enough to be camp, not dark enough to be bleak, Encrypt is a mediocre futuristic action movie that filled time on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003. Why it has been brought out of the cryogenic chamber is anyone's guess.
Facts of the Case
It's the future (2068, according to the DVD packaging) and the earth's atmosphere has been ravaged by war. It's not so pleasant on the surface either, as survivors fight over food and resources in burned-out cities. Ex-soldier John Garth (Grant Show, Swingtown) is the protector of a small group of people living on the streets of L.A. To secure more food for the community, Garth agrees to lead a mission to steal some art works for a mysterious but powerful art collector. A security program called Encrypt protects the treasure, hidden in the Vincent Estate. The program communicates with the intruders through a hologram named Diana (Vivian Wu, Eve and the Fire Horse), a former employee of the estate whose personality has been uploaded into the computer system. Diana is programmed to stop the intruders, yet her human psyche is compelled to save them from the deadly traps that are laid throughout the mansion.
Encrypt is an attempt to ape superior sci-fi movies but it only skims the broadest story elements from a genre that can be rich with fresh and challenging ideas. In this made-for-television effort we get: the post-apocalyptic setting, a corrupt authority figure, a computer with emotions, monsters with cloaking devices, the figure from the hero's past who can't be trusted and the rag-tag team of mercenaries.
Grant Show is in generic action hero mode as he growls his way through the script. Though the story requires his character to deal with a lot of emotions, Show doesn't display a lot of range. Whether he's overcome by the memory of his dead wife and child or falling in love with Diana, his performance feels as stiff as a brick wall. It's hard to assess the actors playing the mercenaries as their characters are so underwritten and strictly one-dimensional they're barely memorable. There is the brawny guy who shoots first, asks questions later; the small woman with a big gun and mouth to match; and the colorful guy who annoys the rest of the team (in this case, he can reference a literary quote for every occasion). As for the bad guy, named Lapierre, he must be quite removed from his French roots since actor Steve Bacic (Battlestar Galactica: Razor) makes no effort whatsoever to portray him with any cultural flavor. The only noteworthy performance comes from Vivian Wu, but the points of interest may be unintentional. She is unconvincing as the computer embodied in Diana though I wondered if perhaps we're meant to be seeing the human personality dominating over the lifeless machine. Wu's Chinese-accented pronunciation of certain words also lends a stilted quality to her dialogue that helps make her character sound a little less human.
The standard issue action scenes are lifelessly staged. The television-friendly violence never evokes any real danger and the limited sets make the production look cheap. The team storms the snow-covered lawn of the L.A. mansion. They traverse the treacherous hallway. They also battle in the boiler room. For all the firepower that is expended the sets never show any damage. Before long, it feels like a video game—each team member is even outfitted with armor that generates a deflective energy shield.
One scene that seems lifted from a Dungeons and Dragons playbook is when the heroes encounter an obstacle that forces them to solve a puzzle before moving on. This could have been an interesting moment but it is handled so poorly that the characters look stupid even after they have solved it. After the first character has negotiated the minefield, why don't the others follow his path to safety? Instead, they all take different routes and, consequently, each of them is in danger one at a time.
The monsters protecting the treasure are sparingly photographed in shadow. That was the right creative choice since they look about as menacing as the big rubber aliens from Doctor Who. Even the heroes' costumes look cheap: black jumpsuits adorned with black shoulder pads and plastic "armor."
With a long list of television credits to his name, director Oscar Luis Costo doesn't find a unique angle to this material. The action sequences don't generate excitement and the lame script is unintentionally funny when it could have been played for laughs. When the brawny mercenary, named King, prepares to face the monster called Rook, he boasts, "It's a rook, I'm a King. I'll checkmate its ass." This scene is simply played straight like it's supposed to be a really cool line that shows how badass King is. None of the characters seem to realize what a dumb statement King has made. The obvious joke would be that a meathead like King has never played Chess in his life but it doesn't seem like Costo was aware of that subtle irony in the script (if in fact the script was meant to be ironic).
As for the plot centering on the theft of some art in a world that has gone to hell, it just isn't convincing. After setting up the world of this movie as a lawless wasteland, sending the hero on an art heist is so underwhelming that it stinks of a red herring. And this comes after the opening titles tell us the fate of the world is at stake. Hugely detrimental to the movie, the mission inspires a "So what?" reaction that negates the importance of the drama very early on.
The picture is mostly unsatisfying due to the unremarkable sets, adequate art direction and only passable video quality of this DVD. A lot of the action is filmed in shadow but overall the detail level is fine. There is a warm color cast through much of the movie so that magentas and browns seem to dominate the palette. Grain is visible to varying degrees throughout. Viewers can hear the cliched dialogue and forgettable score in 5.1 surround sound or 2.0 stereo mix, both sound fine though unimpressive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
From the ravaged atmosphere to the art heist and the gauntlet of traps, there is too much in this script for less-than-masterful hands to deal with given the scope of the production. If the story had been trimmed down to more manageable elements perhaps this could have been a more compelling sci-fi drama. One aspect of the story that could have been given more attention is the nature of Diana. The computer program that takes on the personality of a human, and the question of whether the program's identity is machine or person, is a thought-provoking dilemma. There are times in the movie when I wasn't sure if Garth was talking to Diana as a woman whose trust he wanted or as a machine he needed to outwit. But as it stands I think that vagueness is a byproduct of the lackluster direction rather than intentional complexity.
An underwhelming story and forgettable performances make it difficult to recommend Encrypt. Even as far as disposable, derivative sci-fi action movies go, there are better examples. Vivian Wu has done better work elsewhere and this one should be omitted from her CV. If the other cast members go on to more memorable roles, it might be amusing to look back at their work here. Until then, we're not exactly laughing with them.
This one should have been kept in the Sci-Fi Channel's deepest crypt. Guilty.
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