Jeff Clanagan

Alex Rivera's ambitious directing debut lacks the vision, or the budget, to pull off its fusion of sci-fi and aspirational saga.

“The Matrix” goes down Mexico way in “Sleep Dealer,” but despite some clever virtual-reality concepts and projections about the next frontier of globalization, Alex Rivera’s ambitious directing debut lacks the vision, or the budget, to pull off its fusion of sci-fi and aspirational saga. Named after a factory whose technology enables laborers to work themselves to death remotely without crossing the border, the pic intrigues early on, but falls short on narrative and emotional drive. Beyond fests, low-rent sci-fi fans may find this a good deal on DVD.

Sick of life in the poor village where a private company controls the water supply, tech geek Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Pena) is tinkering with his radio when it picks up a transmission it shouldn’t have. Barely affected by the subsequent tragedy, Memo heads to Tijuana, where he seeks to have metal nodes implanted in his skin so he can work in the aforementioned factories. Rivera has some neat ideas about privacy in the virtual era and the sweatshops of tomorrow, but Pena is a blank. The f/x get an A for effort, and super-saturated colors lend the pic visual interest.

Sleep Dealer

Production

A Starlight Film Financing presentation of a Likely Story production, in association with This Is That. Produced by Anthony Bregman. Executive producers, Guy Naggar, Peter Klimt. Directed, edited by Alex Rivera. Screenplay, Rivera, David Riker.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lisa Rinzler; music, Tomandandy; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Miguel Angel Alvarez; art director, Luis Figueroa; costume designer, Adela Cortazar. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 2008. Spanish, English dialogue. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Luis Fernando Pena, Leonor Varela, Jacob Vargas.

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