‘Expired’ Film Review: Futuristic Film Noir Romance Is a Hit-and-Miss Affair

Focusing on the romance between a singer and a hit man, Ivan Sen’s ambitious film is packed with intriguing ideas and arresting sights but keeps its cards too well hidden.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Dystopian sci-fi, fatalistic film noir and poetic ruminations on love, regret and abandonment are mixed to uneven effect in “Expired,” the sixth feature by multitalented Australian filmmaker Ivan Sen (“Beneath Clouds,” “Toomelah”). Centered on a troubled hitman and a disillusioned nightclub singer in an unnamed near-future Asian megacity where artificial intelligence has cheapened the value of human life, “Expired” has plenty of good ideas but meanders a little at times and hangs onto its secrets for too long before rushing into revelations and resolutions in the home stretch. Beautifully shot primarily in Hong Kong and well performed by a cast including Ryan Kwanten and Hugo Weaving, “Expired” opens in limited North American cinemas on March 18.

Released in Australia as “Loveland,” Sen’s first feature in six years is a departure from his highly regarded outback cop dramas “Mystery Road” (2013) and “Goldstone” (2016). “Expired” marks a second venture into sci-fi, following the little-seen “Dreamland” (2009), a dazzling experimental drama about a UFO hunter on the perimeter of Area 51 that is ripe for rediscovery. While the arid emptiness of “Dreamland” and the throbbing, “Blade Runner”-like megalopolis of “Expired” could not be more different, they share a troubled protagonist facing an existential crisis in the shadow of technology and paranoia.

Early indicators point toward a riff on Rudolph Maté’s 1949 crime classic “D.O.A.” about a dying man searching for his own killer after being poisoned. (Numerous remakes and reworkings of “D.O.A.” include the 1969 Australian obscurity “Color Me Dead.”) The man in question here is Frank (Kwanten), an assassin whose body is deteriorating for reasons that are unknown but seem connected to various sinister-looking characters on his trail. We know Frank also has serious emotional issues when he tells us in voiceover narration about his father who went missing years ago and his mother who “sold” Frank before he was born. In a startling early sequence, Frank’s bed is occupied by a female android who would be around the same age as the mother he has never known.

In true noir style, Frank falls for April (Jillian Nguyen), a beautiful and despondent “karaoke geisha” who left behind her daughter in Vietnam for financial rewards that have never materialized in the big city. Much more a meeting of minds than a meeting of bodies, Frank and April’s chaste romance involves lengthy discussions about love, fate and the price we pay for past actions. Many early exchanges are illuminating and poetic, but the shine wears off a little and some viewers may feel distanced by the couple’s repetitive and circular musings on matters of the heart and conscience.

The setup of Frank’s mysterious physical condition will grab viewers’ interest immediately but this key story element doesn’t deliver the suspense and gripping drama it promises. By the time Frank connects with enigmatic scientist Dr. Bergman (Weaving), many viewers will be ahead of a plot that chooses to withhold information that could have been brought forward much earlier and given audiences all the more reason to become involved in Frank’s life-and-death search for answers. It’s very late in the day when all secrets are revealed, leading to a conclusion that’s satisfying enough, albeit rather rushed.

There are no shortcomings in the film’s visual, sound and design elements. Serving as his own cinematographer, editor, composer and vfx artist, Sen creates a convincing near-future world in which humans and humanoids co-exist uneasily, the only cops in sight are those facilitating criminal activities, and monolithic corporate entities are promising consumers “the chance to live forever.” Sen’s score is a terrific combination of epic electronic soundscapes, moody piano and delicate string arrangements.

‘Expired’ Film Review: Futuristic Film Noir Romance Is a Hit-and-Miss Affair

Reviewed at Dendy Newtown Cinemas, Sydney, March 17, 2022. Running time: 102 MIN. (Original title: “Loveland”)

  • Production: (Australia) A Lionsgate (in U.S.), Dark Matter Distribution (in Australia) release of a Bunya Productions production, in association with Screen Queensland, Rock Salt Releasing. (World sales: TriCoast Int’l, Los Angeles.) Producers: David Jowsey, Angela Littlejohn, Ivan Sen, Greer Simpkin. Executive producers: Allen Wan, Nicholas J. Fairfax, Strath Hamilton, Macy Hamilton, Daisy Hamilton, Tarik Coskun.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Ivan Sen. Camera: Ivan Sen. Editor: Ivan Sen. Music: Ivan Sen.
  • With: Ryan Kwanten, Jillian Nguyen, Hugo Weaving, Michael Chan, Andrew Ng, Keiichi Enomoto, Lamar Brown, Shinji Ikefuji, Brooke Nicole Lee, Jasmine Liew, Bianca Wallace. (English, Vietnamese, Cantonese dialogue)