J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Narcopolis: Just Say No to Drugs and Time Travel

Welcome to a near future dystopia, where legalized drugs are the defining characteristic of the brave new society—or perhaps it is someplace in today’s Colorado, where a lot of British expats have congregated. Since a spotty form of time travel exists in this world, maybe it can be both. However, control over that new temporal technology will lead to even more trouble in Justin Trefgarne’s Narcopolis (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

All of the drugs produced by the Ambro Corp come with founder Todd Ambro’s hollow personal guarantee. They are one hundred percent safe, but still head-smackingly effective. As the much abused and neglected son of addicts, he made legalization his personal crusade, so now he maintains his end of the bargain. At least that is the official story. As a narcotics cop or “dreck,” it is Frank Grieves’ job to keep the dangerous unlicensed stuff of the streets—basically anything not produced by Ambro.

Grieves has decidedly mixed emotions about his duties, especially since his corrupt squad chief officer makes no secret of his loyalties to Ambro. He also openly sniffs the company’s products, as is now acceptable in this day and age. Grieves was already on his bad side, but his use of scarce resources on a recent case has further perturbed the corrupt copper. Somehow, he has uncovered a series of bodies and suspects whose DNA is not in the system. Eventually, the elusive and frequently leather-clad Eva Gray will offer him an explanation, but he does not what to hear she is a freedom fighter from the future.

Narcopolis is not exactly a complex film, but you will be hard-pressed to explain just what the Ambro Corp is doing, beyond their core legal narcotics business—or why they are doing it, besides their general all-purpose commitment to villainy. Still, there is something darkly compelling about the film’s vision of post-legalization society. Drugs are now almost omnipresent, even in the top levels of the police force. Although its dystopian cityscape owes a clear debt to Bladerunner and its host of followers, the design team still makes it look slick and coolly oppressive.

Elliot Cowan is serviceable enough as Grieves and Jonathan Pryce gamely chews the scenery as the oddball Russian designer chemist Yuri Sidorov. Yet, somehow the characters never seem to connect with the audience or each other. It does not help that the villains are basically vanilla-flavored cardboard. Even more frustrating, Elodie Yung (Netflix’s Daredevil, District 13: Ultimatum) hardly has any chance to show off her action chops as Gray.

We pretty much know from the start who the mystery corpse is, because the film never gives us any other suspects, yet the revelation is still surprisingly potent. In fact, Trefgarne displays a fair degree of skill. Perhaps instead of marrying together a dystopian drug thriller with a time travel fate-changing fable, he should have focused solely on one or the other (probably the former). Let’s just say he’s no Timothy Woodward Jr. We’d be happy to see another film from Trefgarne. Even though the pieces don’t quite fit together, genre fans should consider checking it out when it hits Netflix. There is something to it, but probably not enough to justify Manhattan ticket prices. Regardless, it opens tomorrow (10/2) at the Arena Cinema in LA and screens ‘round midnight this weekend at the IFC Center in New York.

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