Cinema Signal:

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
Works that were the basis of "Blade Runner", "Screamers", "Total Recall", Minority Report" and "Paycheck."

. "Code 46"

If you've read the stories of Philip K. Dick, or seen such movies based on his work as "Paycheck" and especially "Minority Report," you'd think this was based on his work. It's not, except by way of inspiration, perhaps. It's interesting that it's so true to the Dick style and concepts that it suffers from similar problems, the worst being that its notions are a mite too bizarre for the audience mainstream. No Disney entry, this, but count yourself in if you're a sci-fi or an arthouse film fan.

This is a love story with ideas about technologies of the future that might be a bit hard to swallow, one in which a large percentage of the population is artificially conceived. So large, that Code 46 had to be devised in order to prevent inadvertent inbreeding. Despite that environmental atmosphere, the core of the story is about what a man might be willing to give up and go through in order to protect someone he falls in love with. It's a more serious version of a cop making a date with a speeder instead of writing a ticket.

In this case, William Geld (Tim Robbins), an investigator for the Seattle-based Pinkerton detective agency, is sent to Shanghai to investigate counterfeit ID papers called "papelles", a valuable form of insurance coverage, passport and visa in one document, produced by a company called Sphinx. William is "armed" in a virtual sense, with a skill-producing "empathy" virus that allows him to detect when a person is lying. In order to do it, he has to engage the person in conversation in which he asks certain kinds of questions.

To ferret out the worker who is responsible for the phony papelles, he conducts one-on-one interviews with each of the employees on the production line. Detecting that the culprit is Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), his fascination with her causes him not to report her crime but to name an accomplice as the criminal who takes the rap and is immediately imprisoned. As for William and Maria, they spend the night together.

Correctly detecting the depth of William's feelings for her, which she fully returns, she tests him by being completely open with him, revealing not only her secret techniques but having him join her as she passes phony papelles to Damian Alekan (David Fahm), a client in need. William passes the test by remaining true to her rather than to the system that entrusted him with authority. He stays the night, they make love, and he returns to his wife and young son expecting never to see her again.

But when his boss asks him to head back to Shanghai to investigate the death in Asia of one Damian Alekan, he recognizes the victim as the receiver of Maria's fake papelles. Once there, he finds Maria gone from Sphinx and tracks her to a clinic where he learns that she has had an abortion and that all memory of the father --him-- has been erased because of a Code 46 violation. This indicates that they are a DNA match due to cloning, and that a union between them, by statute, is illegal.

The world has advanced in a peculiar direction. Are we being warned against what scientific progress in genetics might lead us to?

The actors are exemplary as they immerse themselves as star-crossed lovers of the future. Both Robbins and Morton seem to drift into many a role that has a political and cerebral context. Robbins, who so effectively reminded us of the insidious dangers in the minds of the militia leaders among us in "Arlington Road"; Morton who seems to have stepped out of the mind tap mire of "The Minority Report." It seems like their superb ability to evoke sympathy and depth will always be available for films that expose evil designs and wrong-headed mentality. Good for them and for the basic humanity they maintain in the rather fanciful context.

A full-frontal shot in closeup might help the boxoffice prospects for the film... or not. It certainly seems unnecessary.

Om Puri, the Indian actor who often plays inspectors, commissioners and loving fathers, convinces in the role of the middle-management beaurocrat of Sphinx with his usual magnificent aplomb.

In reaching for some supposed conventions of an unknown future in order to deepen the aura of an advanced world, director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce add the peculiar notion of applying non English terms to things. Spanish "Papelles" for papers, for example. Other "marks of the future" include referring to the main city as the "inside" and the less controllable countyside where rebels might exist as "outside." The device adds a strangeness; it reminds us that we're in the future, but the device is more precious than colorful.

In the end, what's at work here are emotions that appear to be as recognizably human in some next century as they are here and now, when the dazzle of unexpected love can cause us to act against our own previously cherished interests.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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