A clever idea that could have worked as a novella, the urban-fantasy-cum-sci-fier “Franklyn” doesn’t cut it by the bigscreen rulebook. Shuttling between present-day London and a totalitarian, retro-futuristic city, this first feature by Brit writer-director Gerald McMorrow leaves viewers dangling for so long that most will have checked out emotionally before the big revelation an hour in. Visually striking head-scratcher — somewhere between “Blade Runner” and “V for Vendetta” in its noirish bits — looks to have more of a future as an ambitious but failed cult item than as a contempo earner. U.K. release is skedded for Jan. 30.
Been-here-before feeling starts early on as a masked figure, Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe, one-note), surveys a dystopian urban landscape, Meanwhile City, that’s cobbled together from the Batman pics and vampire movies like “Underworld.” Growling out a noirish voiceover, supported by Joby Talbot’s portentous score, Preest informs auds he’s going to kill a man.
Cut to modern-day London, where a woman, Emilia (Eva Green), is having a spat with her mom, Margaret (Susannah York). Huh? Then back to the future, as Preest roams the bustling streets of his city (part “Sweeney Todd,” part post-apocalyptic carvival) and reveals he’s out for revenge on “the Individual,” who killed an abducted girl years earlier.
Also milling around in the contempo plot soup are Milo (Sam Riley), who’s just been jilted at the altar; his best man, Dan (Richard Coyle); and Emilia, a sort of conceptual artist who’s past deadline on her latest project.
In his world, meantime, Preest is arrested and hauled in front of the fascistic head (Art Malik, smoothly sinister) of Meanwhile City’s all-powerful Ministry. Though Preest is disliked by the authorities for being “a man without religion,” he’s given free license to dispose of the Individual, who is apparently coming back to the city.
As if all this weren’t enough, back in the present, a Cambridge pastor (Bernard Hill) comes looking for his son in London and ends up at the hospital where Emilia has been taken after an attempted suicide; and Milo tracks down his childhood love, Sally (also Green), who’s now working as a teacher in leafy Ealing.
Any initial curiosity built up by the opening reels is soon squandered by the pic’s relentless time-shuffling and failure to provide auds with even the smallest lifeboats to hang onto. In addition to providing no background to characters, the script throws around ideas (Meanwhile City is dominated by religion) without ever developing them.
Script’s surprise reveal is nowhere big enough a payoff for an hour’s perpetual tease. Finale, bringing both worlds together, is both physically and dramatically mishandled.
The foolishness of casting Phillippe (taking over a role originally slotted for Ewan McGregor) in a part where he spends 80% in a mask is matched by the miscasting of Riley — so good as singer Ian Curtis in “Control,” but here utterly milquetoast as the male co-lead. Green growls her way through as the arty, mixed-up Emilia, and beams sweetness as Sally, but can’t make sense of either character dramatically.
With a background in musicvideos and commercials, McMorrow delivers a handsome widescreen tech package on a modest £6 million ($10.4 million) reported budget, with inventive production and costume design by Laurence Dorman and Leonie Hartard. But take off the handsome wrapping and there’s nothing inside this box to hook paying customers.