Judge Bill Gibron would rather suffer through the Apocalypse than watch this movie again.
Contagion this isn't.
We're in some aspect of a not too distant future. A war rages in the Middle East, resulting in the release of a deadly biological threat that quickly spreads around the globe. At first, the U.S. argues calm. Then the East Coast is affected. Soon, the President is evacuated from the White House. Three couples—musician Erik (Penn Badgley, Easy A), his fiance Anna (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies), his grandpa Andy (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon) and wife Esther (Gena Rowlands, Gloria), and his attorney Mia (Rosario Dawson, Trance) and her husband Len (Josh Hartnett, The Black Dahlia)—all try to find a way to survive this Extinction Level Event, with each one bearing guilt over their relationship and their ties to each other. Anna may be going crazy. Len is jealous of his wife's success. Even Andy has a secret, something about his work in a science lab back in the '70s which may or may now have something to do with the pandemic.
Clearly trying for the kind of sprawling interpersonal epics made famous by Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman, Alejandro González Iñárritu and others, Parts Per Billion wishes it had, well, one billionth of those director's aesthetic. This lame, loosely knitted nonsense tries to bring the end of the world down to a human level and fails over and over again. When you'd rather see Roland Emmerich sink California into the Pacific or destroy the White House with an alien laser/tidal wave, you know you're in trouble. Outside the stellar cast (there are some big names here for such a minor movie), there is nothing first time filmmaker Brian Horiuchi brings to the project. He's so locked up in not screwing the pooch that the poor cinematic dog goes hungry as a result. We sit through laborious moments of faux familial distress, all the time wondering when the super-flu (or whatever) will step in and render the planet plagued ala Stephen King's The Stand.
If only this film had the slightest amount of vision. At least Mr. Independence Day knows how to contextualize Armageddon. Here, as in Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, we don't see beyond the neighborhoods. There's no evidence of the end, just tons of inference. As we jump between stories and timelines, as one weird edit leads to another confrontation that fails to payoff, we grow annoyed. We should be sympathizing with these characters, sharing their fear and their angst. Instead, we want them infected and part of the body count ASAP. This is especially true of Badgley's Erik and Palmer's Anna. Their relationship is so fey, so caught up in cutesy moments of middling revelation that we don't even mind that the actors have zero chemistry onscreen. We just want the moaning to stop. Think of the silliest soap opera and then add in The Andromeda Strain. That's Parts Per Billion, except a whole lot hokier and far less suspenseful.
Given a nice 1080p gloss by Millennium Media, the 1.78:1 image here is good. Colors are solid, if a little washed out (apparently, in the midst of a global crisis, everyone's rods and cones start to go) and there is a high level of detail. Clearly, director Horiuchi wanted his actors to look pale and clammy, and it worked. Sonically, the situation is equally adept. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless mix does a good job of balancing out the score, the background ambience, the dialogue, and other aural effects. They are spread among the speakers, with the conversation clearly utilizing the front channels. As for added features, well…there aren't any. You get some previews for other Millennium releases and that's it. Perhaps a commentary allowing Horiuchi to explain his motivations would have helped this hapless release.
With a movie like The Road, we learned that life after a massive, planet-cleansing event, will be a combination of cannibals, consumption, and sacred cans of soda. The greatest danger to man…is man himself. In Parts Per Billion, there is a bigger threat looming: boredom!
Guilty. A groan-inducing work of addled ambitions.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
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