‘Upgrade’ is Undone
The mindless violence feels like watching your roommate play ‘Call of Duty’
Logan Marshall-Green stars in Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, playing Grey, a quadriplegic who is given the opportunity to walk again. Not only is the protagonist granted mobility, but the microchip implanted in his spine – named STEM – gives him amazing fighting skills. All he has to do is say, “STEM, you know what to do,” and suddenly our hero is Jackie Chan-ning to death the villains who killed his girlfriend and paralyzed him. STEM also talks to him and offers helpful advice and up-to-the-moment facts. It’s kind of like having ALEXA implanted in your head. Instead of asking ALEXA to play Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic,” or what time Komoda’s Bakery opens, you can say “STEM, I need to kill a roomful of people right now.” Suddenly, you’re snapping necks and committing serious Van Damme-age. That’s the gimmick of this movie and it gets old surprisingly fast.
At first, it seems like Upgrade has something to say about the human tendency to rely too heavily on technology. By the final stretch, it’s all about the violence. What it comes down to is a revenge fantasy with bodily assistance by a carnage-minded AI. The end result is a big nothing of a summer movie, like Ryan Reynolds’ Self/Less, with sub-Cronenberg body horror and robotic action sequences that seem lifted out of a video game.
Whannell, the character actor who co-created and wrote the Saw and Insidious films, turns in an energetic but completely uninspired turn in the director’s chair. While Upgrade takes place in the near future, it’s full of Jetsons-like details that look silly and like they’re trying too hard to push a high tech look. Not helping matters is how painfully obvious the big third act reveal is, eliminating any suspense about the story’s outcome.
The best quality to Marshall-Green’s performance is the physicality he brings; conveying how fully STEM takes over his body, Marshall-Green becomes a human marionette and he looks good doing it. Unfortunately, his charmless performance never makes us care.
The acting is pretty lousy, though the dialog is so bad it’s hard to imagine anyone really making this work. Betty Gabriel, so good as the overly attentive housekeeper in Get Out, gives the best performance here as a cop. She’s too good to waste her time in movies like this.
Not helping things is the cacophonous, ear-splitting music score by Jed Palmer. I’ve seen lots of bad movies that have such great music, I’d almost be fooled into thinking I was watching a great movie. What Palmer accomplishes is “composing” a score so rotten, I would have preferred wall-to-wall music from ABBA (EDITOR’S NOTE: Mama Mia! Here We Go Again opens July 20. You can expect Barry’s review the following week).
What is the point of this? That mean people shouldn’t mess with quadriplegics? Or that quadriplegics shouldn’t seek revenge? Either way, utilizing a character who is paralyzed below the neck as a bloodthirsty action hero struck me as tasteless. Apparently, there is an audience for this and they sat in the aisle across from me. Every time Logan-Marshall leapt out of his wheelchair and slashed yet another villain, I heard a few yelps of “Aw, yeah!” a few seats away. Violence can be exciting but it’s rarely this mindless or unexceptional. The trailers oversell the action, as this takes too long to get where it’s going and will only surprise audience members who have seen five movies in their lifetime.
Considering that the main character can’t move and murders nearby assailants through technological means, it’s hard to get involved with his mission of vengeance. Since STEM is doing all the work for him, watching Grey exact justice is a lot like watching my college roommate play Call of Duty and never give me a turn.
Woefully predictable and visually ugly, Upgrade wants to be RoboCop meets All of Me but plays like another Hardcore Henry, which I don’t mean as a compliment.
Rated R/100 min.