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updated: 3/15/2013 3:02 PM

Inventive imagery can't right tepid 'Upside Down'

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  • Adam (Jim Sturgess) makes out with Eden (Kirsten Dunst) even though they are from different worlds only feet apart in the science-fiction romance "Upside Down."

      Adam (Jim Sturgess) makes out with Eden (Kirsten Dunst) even though they are from different worlds only feet apart in the science-fiction romance "Upside Down."

  • Video: "Upside Down" trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'Upside Down'

No, it's not about mortgages.

In his soppy, passionless science-fiction romance "Upside Down," director/writer Juan Diego Solanas demonstrates a knockout knack for creating spectacular visions of twin planets in synchronized orbits just a few feet away from each other.

The planets are divided by many things: space, gravity and finances. The Up Here planet has all the money, social trappings and a beautiful girl named Eden.

The Down There planet has poverty, riffraff and a smart, inventive boy named Adam.

As you can probably already tell, "Upside Down" isn't subtle about its ham-handed metaphors (Adam and Eden, really?) for the worlds of the haves and the have-nots.

Jim Sturgess plays Adam, who meets Eden (Kirsten Dunst) as a kid looking up at her while she's looking down on him. (Here's a movie that gives new meaning to Hal Bachman's romantic pop song "So High Above Me.")

They grow up and engage in a forbidden romance that requires some tricky maneuvering to keep them both from being suddenly separated by each respective planet's gravitational pull.

Armed squads with dogs put an end to their interplanetary dalliance. (Apparently it's legal to shoot anyone attempting to contact someone from the other world.)

Years later, Adam has evolved into an inventor ardently developing an anti-aging cream derived from the pollen of pink bees. Eden has become an employee of a monolithic interworld corporation called Transworld.

One day, Adam sees Eden on TV and seeks her out.

Oh, no! She suffers from amnesia and doesn't remember their happy times together. Will Adam ever be able to jog her noggin and reclaim their past romance?

"Upside Down" would have been a much stronger movie had it been handled by a Terry Gilliam or David Lynch, filmmakers with a knack for creating quirky, (sometimes) accessible characters in strange, fantastic environments.

Solanas allows Dunst and Sturgess to go through tepid motions of emotions without a whit of the passion or obsession needed to establish that Adam would risk his life to be with Eden.

"Upside Down" falls back on a marvel of inventive imagery, especially inside Transworld where two seas of cubicles -- one right side up, the other upside down -- stretch as far as the eye can observe, as if Solanas had been inspired to create his movie from a collision of "Brazil" and "Office Space." (He was actually inspired by a surrealistic dream in which he looked up at planet close above him.)

On the downside, Solanas shackles his stodgy narrative with Adam's lecturing voice-over narration that drones on for 10 minutes to set up the movie's premise (didn't "Star Wars" do that in a simple screen crawl?). At the 30-minute mark, Solanas completely forgets that Adam is telling the story and launches into scenes the hero couldn't possibly know about to report.

"Upside Down" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated PG-13 for sexual situations, language and violence. 103 minutes. ★ ★

Reel Life film notes:

• Buffalo Grove native and Stevenson High School graduate Steven Feinartz has directed a new movie titled "The Bitter Buddha," a look at comedian Eddie Pepitone's offbeat humor and lifestyle. The backstage pass-style movie includes comedy, animation and interviews with Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron and Zach Galifianakis.

You can see "The Bitter Buddha" with Pepitone and Feinartz in person at 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. 88 minutes for the movie. Tickets cost $12. Go to musicboxtheatre.com.

• Buffalo Grove resident (and my Movie Club partner) Raymond Benson will be the featured pianist at a night of movie music, original songs and rock 'n' roll at 7 p.m. Monday, March 18, at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle, Schaumburg. stdl.org Free admission.

Kristina Cottone and Kim Kozel from the Chicago band "Honey & the 45s" will be special vocal guests. Go to raymondbenson.com or honeyandthe45s.com.

• The "Crossed Swords" film festival -- celebrating swordplay movies -- continues through May 30 at the Park Ridge Public Library.

Up next, the 1934 classic "Count of Monte Cristo" on Thursday, March 21. Go to parkridgelibrary.org for titles of the other movies.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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