Able Edwards

Potentially intriguing concept gets amateurish execution in an experimental misfire that suggests how Ed Wood might have fared during the digital revolution. Shot in black-and-white mini-DV in front of green-screens, with computer-generated background imagery added later, pretentious sci-fi fable is fatally undone by overall air of '50s B-movie tackiness.

With:
Abel Edwards - Scott Kelly Galbreath Chairman Lowery - Michael Shamus Wiles Gower - Steve Beaumont Jones Franklin Wallace - David Ury Rosemary Edwards - Keri Bruno Morgan Farina - Johari Johnson

Potentially intriguing concept gets amateurish execution in “Able Edwards,” an experimental misfire that suggests how Ed Wood might have fared during the digital revolution. Shot in black-and-white mini-DV in front of green-screens, with computer-generated background imagery added later, pretentious sci-fi fable is fatally undone by flat acting, muddled script and an overall air of ’50s B-movie tackiness. Frequently muddy-looking visuals don’t help, either.

Neophyte multi-hyphenate Graham Robertson — he’s credited as writer, director, editor and production designer — borrows structural devices from “Citizen Kane” and biographical details from the life of Walt Disney to concoct a glumly allegorical drama set aboard a heavily populated satellite years after the cataclysmic decimation of Earth’s population.

For corporate leaders among what’s left of the human race, it’s still pretty much business as usual. Upset by declining profits for their robot manufacturing industry, directors of the Edwards Corp. — a company founded by entertainment-industry visionary Abel Edwards — take drastic steps to reverse their dwindling fortunes. Specifically, they clone DNA of company’s founder, to create a new and improved Able Edwards (Scott Kelly Galbreath).

Trouble is, Edwards 2.0 turns out to be every bit as single-mindedly obsessive and control-freakish as his predecessor. Rather than expand robotics, he rebels against “virtual reality” by opening Disneyland-style theme parks where real thrills and spills can be experienced.

Robertson clumsily raises Big Questions about what it means to be truly human, and whether a clone can be claimed as a corporate asset. But he fails to fully realize the potential of his plot, and often gets lost amid the tangles of interlocking flashbacks. Early scenes suggest Edwards Corp. board members will shape Edwards 2.0 by making the clone experience the same traumas and heartbreaks endured by the “real” Edwards. As pic progresses, however, increasingly less is made of this seemingly vital subplot.

Mix of live actors and computer-generated backgrounds is only sporadically believable, and rarely seamless. Special effects are pathetic — particularly during a disaster at Edwards’ showcase theme park — and even simple transition scenes are distracting because they look so fake. Each time the actors walk or run in place while backgrounds move to indicate characters in motion, the effect is almost as laughable as Bela Lugosi’s climactic tussle with the rubber octopus in “Bride of the Monster.”

It’s conceivable, of course, that what appears to be rampant cheesiness actually is deliberate, self-referential stylization. But such rationalization would excuse only a limited number of the artistic sins on display here.

Able Edwards

Production: A Graphic Films production. Produced by Scott Bailey. Executive producers, Steven Soderbergh, Jay Hart, David Mazer. Co-producers, Noe Welch, Maria Nay. Directed, written, edited by Graham Robertson.

Crew: Camera (B&W, DV), Ricardo Palavecino; music, Michael Suby; production designer, Robertson; costume designer, Jayme Bohn; sound, Mike Fox. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (Emerging Visions), Austin, Texas, March 15, 2004. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Abel Edwards - Scott Kelly Galbreath Chairman Lowery - Michael Shamus Wiles Gower - Steve Beaumont Jones Franklin Wallace - David Ury Rosemary Edwards - Keri Bruno Morgan Farina - Johari Johnson

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