Sci-fi, noir and romance are tossed into the genre blender with uneven results in "Utopia," the third feature by helmer Maria Ripoll. Technically impressive, fast-moving and stylish pic knits together three stories; but its assault on the senses is achieved at the price of character development, leaving project drained of warmth and charm.

Sci-fi, noir and romance are tossed into the genre blender with uneven results in “Utopia,” the third — and very different — feature by helmer Maria Ripoll (“Twice Upon a Yesterday,” “Tortilla Soup”). Technically impressive, fast-moving and stylish pic knits together three stories calculated for broad appeal; but its assault on the senses is achieved at the price of character development, leaving project drained of warmth and charm. First weekend B.O. was discreet in late March, and this sub-Shyamalan venture feels too familiar to make mainstream waves offshore.

Adrian (Leonardo Sbaraglia) was born able to see into the future, able to anticipate tragedies but unable to change them. He foresees an explosion that blinds a cop, Herve (Tcheky Karyo), and kills his wife and child. Herve blames Adrian for not doing more to stop the accident.

Adrian recently left a group of clairvoyants called Utopia, run by the aging Samuel (Hector Alterio). For reasons only loosely explained, Utopia exists to try and prevent bad things from happening to important figures. With the help of Jorge (Fele Martinez), Samuel manages to re-recruit Adrian for one last job — preventing the impending death of Angela (Najwa Nimri), who is part of a Latin American sect-cum-guerrilla group headed by a drugs trafficker known as the Commander (Jose Garcia).

Meanwhile, Herve, along with Julie (Emma Vilarasau), has been employed by Angela’s family to find her and rehabilitate her.

Though it’s thick with elliptically-related incident, the ragbag plotline is surprisingly coherent — with the one big proviso that Adrian’s clairvoyance is selective, with no explanation of why he can see some parts of the future and not others. Performances are generally fine, with Karyo’s world-weary cop standing out. However, the mannered, breathy delivery of Nimri, a Spanish staple whenever an edgy, dangerous female is required, starts to grate after a while, and Sbaraglia struggles with the awkwardly conceived role of Adrian.

Pic is memorable mainly for its over-cooked visuals, especially Adrian’s multiple premonitions and memories. Color and B&W are mixed indiscriminately during these sections, to potentially confusing effect. Typical of the film’s stress on audio-visual elements over content is a slo-mo massacre over which Nancy Wilson’s ballad, “The Nearness of You,” plays entertainingly but meaninglessly.

David Carretero’s heavily textured lensing is never less than showy. Pic is basically in Spanish, with some French dialogue.

Utopia

Spain-France

Production

A Hispano Foxfilm release of an Alquimia Cinema (Spain)/TF1 (France) production, in association with TeleMadrid, Canal 9, Via Digital, Antena 3. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Boulogne, France.) Produced by Francisco Ramos. Executive producers, Ana Cassina, Ricardo Garcia Arrojo. Directed by Maria Ripoll. Screenplay, Curro Royo, Juan Vicente Pozuelo.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), David Carretero; editor, Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music, Najwa Nimri; art director, Sergio Hernandez; sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Rejas, Patrick Ghislain. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, March 28, 2003. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Leonardo Sbaraglia, Najwa Nimri, Tcheky Karyo, Jose Garcia, Emma Vilarasau, Fele Martinez, Juan Carlos Vellido, Hector Alterio.

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