This week in movies you missed: I play Netflix Instant roulette and watch a movie I never heard of with an intriguing description.
What You Missed
This is a first feature from writer-director Nir Paniry. It is not Mike Judge's Extract.
The description that made me watch:
Thomas Jacobs can enter a person's mind and view their memories, until a freak accident leaves him trapped inside the mind of a criminal. For four years, Jacobs fights to break free, until he makes a desperate bargain with the convict's own thoughts.
What this doesn't tell you is that Tom (Sasha Roiz, pictured) isn't psychic. He has invented a memory-viewing device that, for some weird reason, gives him a third-person view of a given subject's recollections, just like a movie. Once hooked up, you can traipse around somebody's head and experience their dirty secrets without being detected by their subconscious.
Naturally, the Powers That Be (represented here by a single slimy corrections-department honcho) want to use the device to prove crime suspects guilty.
Tom has scruples about signing a contract with a nascent police state. But he also has a baby on the way and needs dough, so he agrees to be hooked up to a scuzzy young convict (Dominic Bogart) who insists he didn't kill his girlfriend and wants his conviction overturned. Shenanigans ensue.
Why You Missed It
This 2012 flick played at SXSW but had no U.S. theatrical release.
Should You Keep Missing It?
I wish I could recommend Extracted as a hidden gem, but the most I can say is that it wasn't awful and kept me watching to the end. Unlike, say, Ghost Cat.
I can also make a list of far better high-concept movies of which it might faintly remind you: Memento, Minority Report, Cronenberg's work (especially eXistenZ), Primer.
The good parts: professional look; decent pacing; plot twists; a fun performance from Bogart, who seems to be trying to channel Brad Dourif in the "X-Files" episode "Beyond the Sea" but is only a fraction as creepy. Oh, and if you like cute kid actors, the biggest name in the cast is Ty Simpkins, the tyke who irritated Tony Stark in Iron Man 3.
Not so good: Painfully generic, unfleshed-out characters, including Tom and his loyal wife (Jenny Mollen), who waits years for him to find a way out of the convict's head. Melodrama substitutes for the drama and insight of Memento, which had a lot more to say about how memory shapes our sense of self.
The science, or lack thereof. Look, I don't expect a movie about a memory-viewing machine to be realistic. But time travel is pretty unlikely, too, and Primer made us suspend disbelief because its writer-director had worked out plausible-sounding details.
Extracted asks us to believe that a chip in Tom's brain puts him inside the convict's memories, including memories being continuously formed after the chip was inserted — so, for all intents and purposes, the two men are telepathically connected. Also, observers can view these memories on an external flatscreen.
The concept has some cool visual aspects, but it's just too much to swallow with only the briefest of hand-waving explanations. Where is Cronenberg's pseudo-scientific jargon when you need it?
Verdict: Mildly absorbing, and a helpful reminder that it is not easy to write a good high-concept sci-fi film.
This Week in Theaters
Captain Phillips docks with a wide release. Enough Said, with James Gandolfini, at the Roxy and Savoy. Machete Kills, and kills, and probably kills again in the B-movie-spoof sequel. Tons more people are sure to be seeing Gravity this weekend as word of mouth spreads.
This Week on Video
Much Ado About Nothing, The Purge, After Earth, The Hangover Part III, "American Horror Story: Asylum."