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Case Number 02954

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Invincible (Jefery Levy Film)

Miramax // 2001 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // June 3rd, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Invincible (Werner Herzog Film), published June 3rd, 2003, is also available.

The Charge

To survive the ultimate battle, they must become the ultimate warriors.

Opening Statement

Oh, my. Oh my, oh-my-oh-my. I sit here before my keyboard at a loss for words. I feel empty inside, as though the will to laugh or cry has been sucked out of me. Wait, that's it! Sucked! This movie sucked!

Facts of the Case

Os (Billy Zane) is an immortal that has been on earth for 2000 years. Basically, he has been killing people the whole time. We don't see this, mind you, we learn it in the opening voice over. (I say the opening voice over; there are many, many more to come.)

He is walking down a dark alley (in mascara and a cabaret wig) when some glowing fairy angel woman swoops down out of the sky and commands Os to "love, or die!" He laughs wickedly and prances around like a Tim Curry impersonator at Rocky Horror night. (I believe he was going for evil there.) The two "fight" by swooping around in the air and periodically clashing their swords together. Somehow, the white warrior gets the best of him. She holds him still by skewering his forehead with the point of her sword and uploads a montage of sunny skies, warm sunsets, fuzzy bunnies, and pretty flowers into his brain.

She explains that the tablet has been found, then commands him to find the elements. If Slate manages to open the Vortex, the world will be destroyed. Os must train the elements to fight Slate.

So the reprogrammed Os has six days to find the elements, train them, and save the world. But look out for the Shadowmen who seek to stop Os and his four pupils.

The Evidence

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon used wires and balletic stunts to create a poetic atmosphere of action. American Beauty manipulated a carefully constrained color palette of blacks, whites, and red accents to evoke powerful symbolism. The Matrix employed a careful fusion of philosophy, fashion, and Kung Fu to revolutionize cinematic style.

Invincible has wires. It also has a constrained color palette, shloads of philosophy, and what passes for Kung Fu. Everyone wears shimmery black clothes. Clearly the filmmakers believed that assembling these ingredients would be enough to achieve a great movie. "But…but I dripped a bunch of paint onto this carefully stretched canvas! Why won't you give me $20 million for it?"

The issue is one of purpose. There is no central purpose, no cohesive direction. Invincible wallows around in self-help psychology amid constant slow-mo, references every trendy film of the last five years, and expects a comprehensible film to emerge. Sadly, it does not.

I did laugh a few times at the beginning. But soon the energy to laugh seeped out of my body into the couch cushions. I sat, numb and paralyzed, absorbing the poetic but ultimately vapid "Zen-lite" voiceovers. In case you miss any of the voiceovers, don't worry. They echo and repeat like the scrolling messages on hotel billboards: "You will unlock …you will unlock your true destiny…your true destiny through love through love you will unlock …you will unlock your true destiny…your true destiny through love."

Despite 2000 years of reckless slaughter, Os becomes an overnight pastiche of every messiah, scholar, guru, and visionary of the past two millennia. He tracks down four noble but trapped individuals. He rescues each at the last moment, handing them a business card with some weird geometric symbol on it. They follow him. Why? Because they were each born with birthmarks in the same shape as the symbol. (I don't know about you, but if my kid was born with a full-fledged tattoo, I'd throw that punk out on his butt.) Amid the general unbelievability, this clunker stands out. But there are so many gaffes to choose from, don't let me influence you.

This flick is all about the fight scenes, so how are they? Two people square off and wave their arms and legs around near each other. The camera is placed in such a way that is seems like they might be hitting each other. Occasionally, stunt men come in and flip each other around in slow mo. Periodically, we are treated to ethereal aerial battles. The actors are lifted off the ground and they swing their swords around a bunch. In the particularly lame climax, Slate and Os don't even really fight. They lift up into the air and hang perfectly still, swaying like Christmas tree ornaments.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't attempt to visually depict a piece of music in written form. In this rare case, however, I can do so. Fear my mad ASCII skillz as I present to you the score to Invincible:
As you can see, the "music" is simply three notes repeated over and over again with little variation or interest.

Perhaps the filmmakers sought unity, because the acting is the same way. I'm not sure if I've ever witnessed this phenomenon, but most of the people in this movie don't act. At all. They literally stare, unblinking, into the camera. They do not move their facial muscles, speak, or emote in any meaningful way. This anti-acting might be a misguided ploy: have the audience project whatever emotions they think should be occurring onto the people on the screen, like a DVD psychological inkblot test. Unfortunately, everyone winds up catatonic.

Well, not everyone. The arch villain (David Field) stumbles around with all the menace of a young Mister Magoo. He doesn't act, precisely, yet he manages to overact. His character was incomprehensible to me. He was non-threatening, even jovial. His weak attempts to hinder the elements were easily foiled. Why the fuss?

Speaking of the elements, it is possible to overuse a metaphor. These four unlikely pupils represent air, fire, water, and metal. So every time the air woman Serena is onscreen, wind blows. When fire dude Ray is onscreen there are candles and torches. Keith the metal element must "test his mettle in a clash of iron will, temper himself and not melt under the heat" or some such nonsense. The point is that they are stronger combined. So you could mix air and fire to get hot air, or air and metal to play a mean heavy metal air guitar.

I keep talking about the elements as though they were one unit. In a way they were. Each was attractive and achieved moments of connection with the audience. Brief moments. They didn't interact very well and none of the actors distinguished themselves from the homogenous pack of pretty faces.

There is more stuff wrong with Invincible…much more. Superfluous characters. Pointless subplots. Alternatively predictable and incomprehensible dialogue. But I don't have the time to spend writing about it all. Whoever wrote this misguided script should be ashamed. It is pathetic and laughable.

Fortunately they don't prolong our pain with extras. This is one DVD that I was truly glad to remove from my player. The final insult is that it appears this movie was intended to establish a television series. Glad that never materialized.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Technically, the movie has its moments. The sound field is extremely well utilized, with crisp surround effects and authoritative dimension. I thought for a moment that I was in for a sound-and-fury effects spectacle. Sadly, the derivative techno tracks, heavy reliance on echoes and repeated voiceovers, and piss-poor dialogue did not capitalize on the sonic expertise of the crew.

The same can be said for the frequently stunning visuals. Great attention is paid to lighting, composition, and effects. There are some grainy scenes and over dark scenes, but generally the look is clean and smooth. So why did the visual quality have to be ruined by unreasonable reliance on slow motion and constant fades? Why couldn't any scene just play out? Why were there strobe effects in the final battle? Technical competence does not automatically achieve artistry.

Billy Zane, I don't know what to say. You were periodically amusing and offbeat. Why did you do this picture?

Closing Statement

I almost wish Slate had opened the Vortex and annihilated all humanity. That way I could have experienced a fleeting pang of emotion before being sucked into oblivion.

There's that word again. Sucked. (Speaking of sucking, clever readers might recognize a subtle reference to a better movie in my judgment score.)

The Verdict

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! How's that repetition thing grabbin' ya? Guilty!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 89
Audio: 90
Extras: 0
Acting: 35
Story: 24
Judgment: 37

Perp Profile

Studio: Miramax
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
• None
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Action
• Bad
• Martial Arts
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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