Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Chaos Experiment (2009)

At a glance:
Val Kilmer still has almost enough screen charisma to carry this flawed adaptation of an intriguing premise about a climate scientist who uses human subjects in his extreme global warming experiment

Our review (with spoilers):
Jimmy Pettis (Val Kilmer) walks into a newspaper editor’s office and proclaims that he has six people imprisoned in a steam room, and plans to kill them all with 125 degrees heat if he is not given a front page headline. He says it’s all to prove his extreme theories about the end result of unchecked global warming. The editor isn’t so sure, so he brings in a buddy of his, off-duty Detective Mancini (Armand Assante). A subdued game of cat and mouse ensues between Pettis and Mancini; is Pettis insane, or does he really have hostages, or both? Switched on viewers will probably guess the correct answer a lot sooner than I did.

There certainly seems to be six people trapped somewhere in an ornate steam room. As the heat rises, they attack each other and themselves. When they try to escape, someone cruelly stops them. Of course, the sleazy Latino is the first to go, but soon most of them will succumb to fear or anger. Yes, Pettis has certainly proved that a future with global warming is a living hell. Of course, if the temperature really does rise above 125 degrees Fahrenheit, people will probably have to go crazy while under water.

Kilmer is still captivating to watch on film; he’s got that special magnetism and slight touch of craziness that makes for a live and unpredictable performance, even when he isn’t doing much of anything in front of the camera. He’s let himself go a fair bit in a latter-day Marlon Brando sort of way, and this movie isn’t going to have helped that at all, since he spends virtually all of it sitting (in an editor’s office, then in a car, and finally in an interrogation room).

To portray the steam room inhabitants, ambitious editing, saturated colors, and weird juxtaposition of background tracks don’t always succeed, but at least show someone trying to create an original work of art. Unfortunately, the script did not successfully generate anything about these trapped characters that would make me care whether they live or not. Another problem is that it never seems to actually get hotter and hotter in this room. In reality, I thought people would barely be able to move. They move a lot in this steam room, and the only thing they seem to be subjected to are brutal yellowish tints added in post-production.

In the end, (major spoilers follow) the two survivors worship Pettis (who is actually dethroned climate scientist Dr. Gregory); however, they have also been turned into ruthless survivalists by their steam room experience, and plan to kill Pettis rather than take the chance that he will again go to the media and risk exposing their behavior in the steam room. At least, that’s my interpretation; I always get a slightly queasy feeling when I’m not sure what just happened in a film.

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"After a round of introductions, director Philippe Martinez does all the heterosexual males in the audience a huge favor by having Jessie (Eve Mauro) remove her bikini top, strut across the room in slow motion, and recline invitingly on a tiled bench, all to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero." For me, the movie will never get quite that good again."
- porfle (HK and Cult Film News)

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