In the far flung future, the world has apparently been divided into two countries: Soleil (which translates to “sun” from the French but is always engulfed in night) and Frodan (which is always lit by sunlight, but from my research doesn’t translate to shit in any language; feel free to correct me). The two nations have been at war for as long as anyone can remember, and in the interim the government of Soleil has become totalitarian in the extreme, regulating everything from where people live to who they can love. When star-crossed paramours Bone (Peter Nelson) and Helen (Sherilyn Fenn) stick it to The Man by doing it without Big Brother’s permission, they are offered the chance of a lifetime by criminal mastermind/Frodanian spy Jason (David Carradine, trying his damndest to not die of embarrassment): steal a disc (actually a PC board) from a Soleil facility, and he’ll not only pay them but also transport them to Frodan (where the grass just has to be greener). Bone and Helen discover that they have something of a knack for criminality, and Soleil’s most wanted lists quickly have two new additions.
Luis Llosa’s Crime Zone is a miserable film, and not simply in the sense of production value. To be fair, it does create a world for its characters to inhabit, and it does so fairly convincingly on a tiny budget. But every single one of the characters that inhabit this world is miserable in the extreme. Bone works in the Garden of Hibernation, where the hoi polloi are placed in suspended animation while having all sorts of body work done. After his boss catches him badmouthing the clientele, he’s fired, but not before getting reamed out for not “playing the game” (read: kissing ass). This is strictly for the benefit of the audience (as are the statements about how gifted he could have been as a police officer), so that we know Bone is a rebel. Never mind, that he has two facial expressions: deceased and manic. Helen works as a prostitute at the Trocadero 2000: House of Pleasure #4. She was assigned there by the government, so at least we can understand her dissatisfaction. Bone used to be in a gang called the Fuck Ups (which is not only a completely unintimidating moniker but also a set up for failure), along with Creon (Michael Shaner), a character so unlikable, so repellant, and so thinly-drawn that the single side of him you do get to see still feels incomplete. And this is just a small sampling.
If we look at this as part of the intent of the film, it does contain a certain logic. After all, Helen and Bone do find love among the damned, and in the face of the oppression under which they live, they act out. The idea that two people can find each other in the least hospitable environs is certainly one which might touch an audience. The defiant lovers have been a staple of stories for centuries. You have Romeo and Juliet falling in love despite violent familial differences. You have Cole and Kathryn Railly in Twelve Monkeys, who try to outmaneuver destiny. You have Bonnie and Clyde in…um…Bonnie And Clyde, who wound up dying alongside each other because of their choices. From the examples here, you may have noticed a trend. These three couples (and so many others) all came to rather unpleasant endings. This is a strong trope in love stories of this ilk. These are not necessarily stories about love conquering all (well, I suppose in some way they can be, if the idea that the characters are reunited after death holds any value for you). These are stories about the ineluctability of fate, and thus they are also about the intransience of life, about grabbing onto what you can right now. These characters also share at least some light which makes the dark worthwhile. Now, I’m not going to say whether or not Bone and Helen are dead at the end of Crime Zone, but the film does follow the spirit set forth in works like those cited above. What Llosa and company get wrong, however, is that there is little to none of the aforementioned light that makes the dark bearable for our protagonists. Their situation does not improve socially or financially. Right off the bat, the meet cute between our lovers is ham-fisted, improbable, and uncomfortable. When Bone and Helen are with each other (outside of when they’re having sex), there is no chemistry. You don’t feel like these two would give their lives for or kill for one another. It’s all completely scripted, and it feels like it, which is what makes it all the more egregious.
Nevertheless, the lure of transgression in the film is slightly easier to swallow than the attraction supposedly shared by the leads. Naturally in a world where your every move is monitored and dictated, the urge to revolt is strong. This brings up what is perhaps the most intriguing concept of the film. Control of this world rests solely in the hands of a government which clearly has none of the masses’ interests at heart. This is nothing new, surely. Government is almost exclusively depicted as being (by turns) duplicitous, self-serving, incompetent, and outright evil in popular media, and even moreso since the Vietnam War. It is the lengths to which they go that I found mildly engaging. By that same token, the lack of actual control the government has over its people is confounding, all things considered. If anything, one would think that the people would be somewhat placated by their government for all the trouble they have gone through to get to this point (even if the placation is illusory). This is a place where police actually have the time and inclination to bust into a guy’s apartment just to find out if his penis is flaccid or erect (“I bet you’re still horny!”; “show me your dick!”; “Is that it’s normal size?”; yes, really). So, any interest embedded in the film is washed away by the sheer vapidity of just about every scene, because the big picture stays out of focus from start to finish. For example, Creon shoves his hand in Helen’s crotch, and it takes Bone almost half a minute to react. Under a time crunch, our feckless sweethearts decide to rob a bunch of jewelry with no discernible way to fence the goods. Bone teaches Helen how to use a gun by having her point it directly at him. The bandits somehow forget to bring their gas masks to a heist, even though they brought them to their very first one where there was no gas used (unless I blocked it from my memory). Added to the fact that this movie wants to be all Science Fiction things to all Science Fiction fans at the same time (with elements from THX-1138 to Blade Runner to Brazil and beyond) while underwhelming this viewer in all facets, and Crime Zone turns out to be nothing more or less than a colossal waste (no matter its budget).
MVT: Much as I’m loathe to admit it, I do think there’s a good story buried somewhere in this shambles. Unfortunately, it’s only ever really hinted at, so any expectations get dashed at just about every turn.
Make Or Break: When the cop comes in to check Bone’s junk, I couldn’t stop laughing. Alas, I don’t think the scene was intended to be funny, and it stands out obtrusively. I couldn’t buy into anything that happened afterward, and I couldn’t be bothered to care, regardless.