“Upside Down” is a dystopic sci-fi romance about inverted planets that will have auds wondering which way is up, but not really caring much or for very long. The film, Argentine helmer Juan Solanas’ sophomore feature as a writer-director, stars the charming team of Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst as lovers who aren’t just star-crossed but doomed to occupy opposing gravitational fields. The difficult-to-grasp concept will likely thwart box office liftoff.
Any movie that requires five minutes of explanatory narration is in trouble right away. As laid out by Sturgess’ hero, Adam (Dunst plays Eden), the two worlds they occupy — her above, him below — are mere miles apart, but governed by opposing gravities. This means that the two populations, of Up Top and Down Below, experience the other world upside-down.
Since each planet is in the same relation to the other, one can only surmise a political reason for why one is called Up Top and the other Down Below: Up Top is sucking all the resources out of Down Below, as the sinister TransWorld operation keeps the poorer planet oppressed while pursuing its evil-corporation agenda. The only connection the two worlds share is the massive, parasitic TransWorld tower — except for Adam and Eden, of course, who share love.
As childhood sweethearts who meet in a gravity-defying display of dramatic convolution, the two have their clandestine meeting interrupted by the authorities, during which Eden suffers an amnesia-inflicting head injury. For years, as Adam pines below for Eden, she has only the faintest idea that, once upon a time, she had an inverted friend.
The romantic goal of “Upside Down” is their eventual reunion, aided by Adam’s valiant efforts to defy nature and get his girl. En route, Solanas milks the gravity gimmick for all it’s worth, except when it becomes inconvenient. As has been explained during the film’s lengthy intro, the planet where one is born determines your gravitational force for life, no matter which planet you happen to be on. However, possessing matter from the opposing planet allows one to walk around on Down Below or Up Top, without flying into space. But the effect lasts only a little while before the matter starts burning.
This allows the pic all manner of situations in which Adam is racing the clock and/or being set on fire while fighting the force of gravity: During a scene in which he uses a urinal, the stream flows upward, pooling on the ceiling. And yet, Adam doesn’t walk around Up Top with his hair on end, or his eyebrows perpetually arched. Even if a viewer were charitable enough to buy into Solanas’ premise, a flawed construct is constantly rearing its ugly head.
Of course, had all else been working — premise, screenplay, plot mechanics — “Upside Down” might have been a winning enterprise: Sturgess is certainly a terrific young actor; Dunst is her usual winsome self. But there’s simply too much one has to think over, including the idea that half the cast, which includes a piquant Timothy Spall, is always upside down. It’s a notion that ultimately demands too much heavy lifting for a movie that’s supposed to be a flight of fantasy.
Tech credits are solid, especially the otherworldly visual effects.
Reviewed at Magno Review 1, New York, Feb. 12, 2013. Running time: 103 MIN.
A Millennium release of an Upside Down Films and Les Films Upsidedown presentation of an Upside Down Films/Les Films Upsidedown, Onyx Films, Transfilm Intl., Studio 37, Kinologic Films, Jouror Prods., France 2 Cinema production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions. Produced by Claude Leger, Jonathan Vanger, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb, Dimitri Rassam. Executive producers, James W. Skotchdopole, Georges Dayan, Emile Amzallag, Phil Hope. Co-producers, Frederique Dumas, Gregoire Melin.
Directed, written by Juan Solanas. Camera (color), Pierre Gil; editor, Paukl Jutras; music, Benoit Charest; production designer, Alex McDowell; art director, Isabelle Guay; set decorators, Daniel Hamelin, Martine Kazemirchuk; costume designer, Nicoletta Massone; sound, Patrick Rousseau; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Olivier Calvert; special effects supervisor, Louis Craig; visual effects supervisor, Francois Dumoulin; visual effects, Vision Globale, La Maison, Hatch, BUF; casting, Lucie Robitaille. MPAA Rating: PG-13.