You won't be reading reviews of the dystopian sci-fi flick Aeon Flux (Paramount) in the papers today because it wasn't screened for the press—and, given that it cost the GDP of a small country and that Charlize Theron and the director, Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), are critics' darlings, this could mean but one thing: A stinker. A weapon of mass destruction. A planet-killer.
Folks, I'll never understand studios. Aeon Flux is not that terrible. It's certainly more fun than a lot of films that get lovingly showcased. As Aeon Flux (yes, that's the character's name), Theron wears a black Spandex stocking with a generous breach for cleavage, and Kusama photographs her as a tantalizing art object: elongated enough to compete with all the impressive modernist columns, and with enough wriggly curves to vanquish them utterly. If she clearly doesn't perform the most acrobatic stunts, there's no non sequitur when she lands—her endless legs spread wide, her palms flat on the ground, her eyes sparkling with amusement. She digs this action heroine thing. A few months ago, Bill Maher expressed his disapproval with the poster of North Country—Theron with her face smudged and hair tied in a kerchief—by announcing, "All right, Charlize, we get it, you can act. Now you can go back to being beautiful." He'll be a pig in shit at Aeon Flux.
The plot unfolds in a post-viral-holocaust world in which the leaders of a small, walled city (with the only humans left) are drifting into fascism, supposedly in the name of the social good. People are disappearing. A large vessel like a Portuguese man o' war floats overhead. And a rebel group has formed: I'm not sure of the spelling because I didn't get a press kit, but it's pronounced Manniken. Man-a-ken. Mannequin. Monitored by the government, the members (Aeon is their best fighter) swallow pills that allow them to travel deep into their bodies (cue whooshing CSI-like into-the-body plunge) and confer with Frances McDormand as a futurist Queen of Diamonds. Between takes McDormand probably said, "We're a long way from the mines, Charlize," and they both probably had a good laugh.
Aeon and her pal Sithandra (Sophie Okenedo) get assigned to leave the "civilian area" of the city and assassinate the handsome devil (Martin Csokas) in charge of all this… well, whatever it is he's in charge of. I'm not spilling the beans. It's here that the production designer, Andrew McAlpine, goes Le Corbusier gaga with all sorts of abstract ramps and passageways and pocked concrete walls. Really, you could have a great time just laughing at the sets. The action is too chopped-up for my taste, but it's nicely storyboarded and cut together fluidly by Peter Honess and Plummy Tucker. (I love that name. Plummy Tucker.)
Without giving anything away, Aeon Flux finally embraces that favorite faux-utopian artificial-universe theme: what Daniel Menaker called the need to go back to the natural world, to "break through into the real." That it's mostly zillion-dollar formulaic would-be blockbusters that tackle this issue doesn't necessarily invalidate it. And I hope Kusama is not excessively ridiculed for her sophomore stab at melding feminism with, well, being able to afford a swimming pool. Girls can fight and also have fun... 1:00 p.m. PT