(UK/Romania/France - 2014)
Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Pat Rushin and Terry Gilliam. Cast: Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Peter Stormare, Emil Hostina, Pavlic Nemes, Dana Rogoz. (R, 106 mins)
A Terry Gilliam film for those who have never seen a Terry Gilliam film, THE ZERO THEOREM is the sort of dystopian sci-fi nightmare that can't help but feel like reheated leftovers coming from the guy who gave us the 1985 masterpiece BRAZIL. For longtime Gilliam devotees who have followed the auteur's post-Monty Python work for the last 35 or so years, THE ZERO THEOREM will have the distinct feeling of a classic rock act releasing a "give 'em what they want" record after several years away. Known as much for his groundbreaking vision as for the obstacles that have stood in his way over the years--battling Universal execs over BRAZIL, the collapse of his THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA (2002), clashing with Harvey Weinstein over THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005), and restructuring THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009) when Heath Ledger died a third of the way into filming--the independently-financed THE ZERO THEOREM is a rare example of Gilliam being able to make exactly the film he wanted to make, with minimal interference. That's all the more reason that the underwhelming result is a bit on the disappointing side. With a budget reportedly in the vicinity of just $10 million--shoestring by today's standards--Gilliam has miraculously fashioned an arresting visual experience. But when a sci-fi film is released in 2014 and much of the plot hinges on virtual reality, it's a pretty safe bet you're working from a script that's been kicking around for a while. University of Central Florida English prof and screenwriting neophyte Pat Rushin gave his ZERO THEOREM script to producer Richard Zanuck way back in 2004. It didn't end up in Gilliam's hands until 2009 and it's hard telling just how much of Rushin's original script remains (Gilliam is also credited with "additional dialogues"). But even if you factor out the dated subject of virtual reality, Gilliam just doesn't seem like he's bringing his A-game to this one.
SNOWPIERCER teeth, as Leth's online therapist, named "Dr. Shrink-ROM." Really? Subtlety is not the name of Gilliam's game here. The dated concepts, the Gilliam's Greatest Hits selections (at least three supporting characters are almost identical variants of those seen in BRAZIL), and the ham-fisted ways he demonstrates the dehumanized nature of Leth's corporate-saturated world that's a garish interpretation of our own conspire to present a Terry Gilliam that may have reached that late-period Stanley Kubrick or present-day George Romero/Terrence Malick tipping point where an influential, trail-blazing genius is getting a little older and is starting to come off like a guy who doesn't seem to get out much.