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Film Review: ‘Nekrotronic’

Maximum energy meets zero originality to numbing effect in a horror-action-comedy mishmash.

Director:
Kiah Roache-Turner
With:
Ben O’Toole, Monica Bellucci, Caroline Ford, Tess Haubrich, Epine Bob Savea, David Wenham.

1 hour 39 minutes

Horror-action-comedy hash “Nekrotronic” has mankind menaced by soul-sucking demons who’ve invaded the internet. A little bit “Tron” meets “Blade,” with a whole lot of other stuff thrown in, this cartoonish Aussie fanboy missive from the brothers Roache-Turner mashes together high energy, lowbrow humor, and a barrage of visual effects to enjoyable but rather numbing effect. Villainness Monica Bellucci may give a lift in some offshore quarters to a hybrid genre exercise whose lack of other star wattage — and excess of every other shiny or explosive thing — suggests target-audience access will be primarily via home formats.

A surfeit of doo-doo jokes start things off unpromisingly as average dude Howie (Ben O’Toole) and space-case sidekick Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) attend the former’s family business of sewage removal, their slogan being “We Take Your Shit.” But it turns out this is both our first and last glimpse of open-air calm before the film dives into a frenetic but monotonous world of subterranean lairs with disco lighting.

Ancient forces of evil (as detailed in an opening animated sequence that may be the highlight here) have recently gotten tech-savvy, and are now doing their dirty work via an online game. When Rangi plays the game, Howie soon discovers he can see off-line wraiths, ghosts, and such that are invisible (but still deadly) to ordinary mortals. Though Rangi soon exits the plane of the living, that doesn’t stop him from materializing to provide more stale stoner humor throughout. Meanwhile, Howie falls in with David Wenham, Caroline Ford, and Tess Haubrich as a father-and-daughters trio of necromancers warring against the demonic powers being marshaled against humanity by Bellucci’s corrupted ex-ally, eventually revealed to be hitherto-oblivious Chosen One Howie’s mum.

Once it gets rolling, “Nekrotronic” delivers nonstop combat, gadgetry, and CGI, albeit in the uninviting loud-’n’-dumb manner of being forced to watch someone else play a video game. The dialogue is wiseass yet witless, the action incessant minus any novelty of style, stunts, or ideas.

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If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that it’s not enough to be a slavishly devoted fanboy: Filmmakers actually need to bring some sensibility of their own to the table. Without that special something extra, a movie like this one can show all the enthusiasm in the world and still play as a generic patchwork of better movies’ over-familiar conceits. The actors here embrace stock types in a tongue-in-cheek fashion without offering the droll lines or visual gags to back that attitude up. They each get one note, including Bellucci, who seems to be having more fun than viewers will experience watching her. (It’s a little depressing to see the estimable Wenham mired in such silliness, but take heart: He isn’t around for long.)

Indeed, all of “Nekrotronic” seems to be having such a good time with itself that you almost feel churlish for finding the party an overbearing slog. The brothers pack the screen with everything from random neon to innumerable dead extras. But the fact that none of this usually-surefire mindless stimulus is remotely inspired — let alone that the plot feels like a barely-there afterthought — turns so much cheerful sound and fury into near-senseless din. Even the stray genuinely funny idea (like bringing people back to life simply by “copying” their corpses in a 3D printer) gets lost in the general barrage.

Director Kiah and producer/co-writer Tristan Roache-Turner threw everything at the wall to see what would stick in their prior zombie comedy “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.” But that film’s low-budget scrappiness lent charm to its bad-taste splatstick. By contrast, greatly improved (if still modest by Hollywood fantasy-action standards) tech/design resources here affording all the toys they desire only underlines how their love of genre movies hasn’t yet developed past naked imitation.

Film Review: 'Nekrotronic'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 9, 2018. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production: (Australia) An Entertainment One Features, Screen Australia presentation, in association with Create NSW, of a Hopscotch Features, Guerrilla Films production. (World sales: Sierra/Affinity, Beverly Hills.) Producers: Tristan Roache-Turner, Andrew Mason, Troy Lum. Executive producer: John Collee.

Crew: Director: Kiah Roache-Turner. Screenplay: Kiah Roache-Turner, Tristan Roache-Turner. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Tim Nagle. Editor: Christine Cheung. Music: Michael Lira.

With: Ben O’Toole, Monica Bellucci, Caroline Ford, Tess Haubrich, Epine Bob Savea, David Wenham.

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