A B-movie plotline is welded to A-movie production values to often striking effect in thriller “The Kovak Box,” in which a mad scientist plays God in the Mediterranean. Breezily unconcerned with originality, and jumping the rails in the latter stages, slickly made pic still manages some sense of freshness largely thanks to a terrific performance by Irish vet David Kelly. Spanish B.O. has been excellent since mid-January release, and offshore prospects look decent in Spain-friendly territories. First Look has taken North American distribution rights.
Sci-fi novelist David Norton (Timothy Hutton) flies with g.f. Jane (Georgia Mackenzie) for a conference on the Spanish island of Mallorca. On the same flight is Spaniard Silvia (Lucia Jimenez), apparently fleeing a troubled relationship. After the conference, David proposes to Jane, who accepts, but that evening she mysteriously plunges to her death from their hotel window.
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Silvia receives a phone call consisting of Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday” (pic plays fast and loose with that song’s urban legend) and then throws herself out the window. She survives this and other strangeness, eventually running into David at the at the airport. He’s figured out something’s wrong: There have been eight suicides on the island in three days, all of them having received the same call.
Turns out “Gloomy Sunday” was the name of David’s first novel (natch), about brain implants capable of making people kill themselves. The novel has one particular admirer — Frank Kovak (David Kelly), a brilliant but deranged Hungarian-born behavioral scientist.
There’s a nicely contempo feel to the brainwashing theme, and the script, co-written by habitual Alex de la Iglesia collaborator Jorge Guerricaecheverria, turns some sharp tricks with fiction vs. reality. But any nuance of mood is sacrificed to the driving, well-paced plot, which only starts to unravel in the final 15 minutes.
The almost inhumanly fragile, superbly creepy Kovak is quite a creation, and 77-year-old Kelly brings him memorably to life, with a disturbing aura of moral danger. Neither Hutton nor Jimenez can match him in screen presence, and the latter sometimes struggles with her English-language dialogue.
Lensing does full justice to the beauty and remarkable natural light of the Balearics, with some fine, sweeping aerial views. Score is undistinctive orchestral fare, and over-used.