“I’m here to free my parents from the Pits!” proclaims one character late in “Andron.” By then, alas, it’s clear no one is going to rescue the viewer from that same fate. This Italian-made, English-language fantasy action movie recycles elements from “The Hunger Games,” “The Maze Runner,” “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Cube” and so forth in the drabbest, dullest ways possible, with guest stars Danny Glover and Alec Baldwin barely bothering to conceal their disinterest. Opening Friday on 10 screens in as many U.S. cities, this tale of same-numbered “contestants” battling for their lives in a mysterious underground complex won’t linger long. Wider home-format exposure isn’t likely to stir much more enthusiasm — certainly not enough to necessitate the sequel writer-director Francesco Cinquemani’s film seems to presume will follow.
With Baldwin at one point reciting the “Ten Little Indians” children’s rhyme to confirm that absolutely no obvious idea or reference will go untapped here, our protagonists wake up in a subterranean “maze” with no idea how they got there, or even what their own names are. Once they do start recovering some memories, they find disconcertingly that they believe themselves from different time periods — though we eventually learn that “now” is 2154 A.D., twenty-five years after “the Big Catastrophe” which allowed “the Nine Corporations” to take over the world and enslave most of mankind.
A diverse lot — save in the usual movie fashion of all being reasonably young, fit, hot and English-speaking — the 10 disoriented captives quickly figure out they’re part of “The Redemption Games,” a masses-pacifying contest very much in the mode of “The Hunger Games,” but with far less fancy effects. They’re periodically separated from each other (or crushed) by abruptly moving walls and such, when not being chased by roving packs of heavily armored ninja types. As their number shrinks and the survivors try to figure out a puzzle that “only one can survive,” they’re watched by the suffering hordes outside, as well as by a TV executive/puppet-master (Baldwin’s Adam) and his political overlord (Glover’s Chancellor Gordon).
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Though actors playing the “contestants” here (ranging from multinational small-screen faces to veteran Brit rock band Skunk Anansie’s lead singer Skin) throw themselves into the proceedings with sweaty earnestness, character investment could hardly be lower. With Adam arbitrarily intervening and occasional gluts of dreary verbal explication, the uninspired action seems incoherent at times, either because it’s poorly staged or because the viewer has simply ceased to care.
Late efforts at providing some epic dimensions fall flat (exteriors were shot in Malta), soured by dispiriting preceding progress that’s minimalist in a low-rent rather than resourceful way. Even as dumb fun, “Andron” is too generic to offer much amusement, though there are a few eye-rollings to be had from dialogue that’s just as lame when trying to be quippy (“No shit Sherlock,” “We’re not in Kansas anymore”) as when aiming for solemn import (“The people need to know the truth!”).
Even more than recent YA fiction-derived franchises, “Andron” most closely recalls a particularly dank back chapter of Italian exploitation cinema: The spaghettified 1980s “Mad Max” knockoffs that featured so much tedious scrapping in abandoned warehouses and other cheapo “post-apocalyptic” settings. Nobody gets thrown into a pile of empty cardboard boxes here, but the same arid sense of interchangeable stunts in interchangeable locations is fully achieved. (Though the full overseas title is “Andròn: The Black Labyrinth,” there’s very little personality to the primary settings here, which sport a very standard decrepit-industrial-site “dystopian future” look.) CGI work is variable, but it’s the banality of the ideas rather than their execution that’s the real problem here. The best contributions to the overall assembly come from Gherardo Gossi’s occasionally handsome widescreen lensing and Ricardo Eberspacher’s electronica-dominated score.
Both sporting the kinds of frozen get-through-this expressions that might thinly disguise boredom, disbelief or mortification, Baldwin and Glover have possibly done worse, though not by much. The latter has somewhat inexplicably become a Z-movie regular of late. However, just what the former is doing here — within a couple years of starring opposite two best actress performances (“Blue Jasmine,” “Still Alice”) — is one of those mysteries that underline the hazardous volatility of showbiz itself.