March 3rd, 2006
Gathering dust on the Screen Gems shelf for over a year now, “Ultraviolet” is finally unleashed without screening for critics (a Screen Gems policy) and hiding behind an obnoxiously assaulting and unrevealing ad campaign.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the film is a mess of bombastic direction and paint-by-numbers screenwriting, effectively killing the good will director Kurt Wimmer created with his Gun-Kata epic, “Equilibrium.”
In the future, a subculture of genetically modified humans with vampire hunger, known as Hemophages, have been forced underground due to a worldwide panic. The government, at a loss on how to defeat the bothersome and infectious horde, sends a lab experiment in the guise of a 10 year-old boy (the expressionless Cameron Bright, “Running Scared”) to the Hemophages to make trouble. Dispatched to thwart disaster is Violet (Milla Jovovich), a fierce Hemophage warrior who uses all her brutal skills and dynamic gifts to prevent her people from being eradicated, but finds herself protecting the child from certain doom instead.
It’s well known that writer/director Kurt Wimmer hates movie critics. “Ultraviolet” is the reason why.
“Ultraviolet” opens with a title sequence made up of comic book covers, all showcasing the exploits of our heroine. This is Wimmer’s indelicate way of announcing to the audience to leave all reality behind and embrace the superhero world. The next stage of transformation is found in the film’s cinematography, which emphasizes broad colors and smoothed out facial features to replicate the comic page. It’s an ambitious idea to tinker with the image in such a direct way (think “Sin City” without the budget), and it’s the first and last moment of true inspiration to be found in the film.
Wimmer’s previous movie was the cult hit, “Equilibrium.” Another sophisticated project, Wimmer’s vision for his “Fahrenheit 451” homage was simpler, thus making his shrewd direction all the more powerful. The picture also introduced the world to Gun-Kata: Wimmer’s particular brew of martial art. “Equilibrium” demonstrated Wimmer’s craving to mix-up the look and movement of action sequences, taking them to highly stylized realms of ass-kickery. “Ultraviolet” is Wimmer trying to reach that next level of visual elasticity, but forgetting to apply any self-control to the production.
With a heavy, often embarrassing use of CG, green-screen, and stiff fight choreography, Wimmer imagines a world for “Ultraviolet” where armies can be dropped with one swoosh of a sword, and the laws of gravity are mere suggestions to our hero. Trouble is, the fight sequences are so alarmingly repetitive, there’s little reason to root for Violet. Wimmer keeps going back to the well of the title character entering a room filled with bad guys, killing everybody with whatever random weapon she dreams up, and then changing outfits like a mood ring on her way out the door. The first time it’s fun, but Wimmer doesn’t know when to quit, and keeps trudging out the same blueprint to his action, only separated by what tricked out convention center or airport lobby the production managed to film in that day.
Also baffling is the set design. A mix of Anime influences and familiar futuristic trimmings, the sets in “Ultraviolet” look more like Studio 54 leftovers, with a touch of Hype Williams arrogance and Sci-Fi Channel tackiness tossed in for good measure. And Wimmer makes sure all the costumes match the colors of these sets, further amping the unintentional hilarity of the combat set-pieces, which come dangerously close to looking like an incredibly expensive deodorant commercial.
It comes to a point where “Ultraviolet” doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. Wimmer throws in some weepy emotional content in the relationship between Violet and the boy, but it’s melodramatic in all the wrong ways, and kills the little flow the picture has. Wimmer soon shrugs and gives himself over to complete camp by the end, which features Violet dueling with the villain using flaming swords. Meant to shake action conventions, it looks more like a Hawaiian luau gone horribly awry.
Kurt Wimmer certainly is a distinctive visionary, but if “Ultraviolet” demonstrates anything it would be that his farthest reaches of imagination might not always translate properly to the big screen.
My rating: D+