Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green: Damnation) is married to a bigwig in the tech industry, with a self-driving car and an automated house. Grey doesn’t like automation. He prefers to drive vintage cars and restore them for rich buyers.
The mismatched couple is stranded on the wrong side of the tracks after an accident in the self-driving car. Attacked by a band of high-tech muggers with genetic enhancements, Grey is paralyzed and his wife is murdered.
A billionaire former client visits Grey in the hospital with an intriguing proposal: Be a guinea pig for a new microchip that might cure paralysis. The system, called STEM, will take over the severed nerve connections and control his body using brain signals.
The installation is a success but with one quirk: STEM not only controls Grey, it can also think and talk. STEM thinks it can help Grey solve his wife’s murder, and the two team up to take down the bad guys.
In the process, Grey learns something else about STEM. During times of stress, it can take over his body and turn him into a killing machine. That’s useful because the baddies are all bioengineered killing machines.
Upgrade is a throwback to the ultra-bloody 1980s action thrillers that didn’t take themselves too seriously. It is loud, ludicrous and endlessly entertaining.
Director Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3) keeps the action fast and the story moving. There’s little time for reflection, and that’s a good thing, as films like this fall apart when you think about the plot.
The movie looks and feels gritty, but with a fun futuristic twist. It’s essentially a dystopia where the rich live in what look like Apple stores while the poor are reduced to shanty towns. Those who can afford it wear gas masks to keep their lungs clean while others cough in the streets. Its inventive reimagining of the future suits the tone of the story.
Another throwback is the level of violence. This is a movie in the vein of Robocop and Commando; expect to see limbs severed, heads blown off and buckets of blood. Showing the actual consequences of violence has a visceral effect on the audience.
At the film’s center is Marshall-Green, who is hilarious and poignant as a technophobe become reliant upon a computer system. Grey isn’t hard-wired to be a killer, so when STEM takes over he’s more than a little horrified at the carnage he’s causing. But he comes to rely upon STEM to help him achieve his vengeance.
Take your friends who can’t live without their phones and show them what a real upgrade can do.
Good Action • R • 95 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Annie (Toni Collette) has trouble handling the death of her mother. As she tries to cope with the loss of the domineering woman, dark secrets from the past come to life.
First-time director Ari Aster offers an avant-garde take on the typical thriller, incorporating fascinating sound design and interesting framing. Plus, Heredity’s story makes it a horror movie that hits close to home.
Prospects: Bright • R • 127 mins.
For 20 years, the Artemis Hotel has offered medical services to injured criminals. The Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs the underground hospital under a strict code. Guests can’t murder other guests, the gates don’t open to strangers and the medical professionals can never be disrespected.
Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother challenge the rules. The men accidentally stole a valuable container from The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum). When the international crime lord comes to collect, the Artemis and its staff fall under siege.
Featuring a stellar cast and a fun concept, Hotel Artemis should be a zippy thriller full of fun lines and fast-paced action.
Prospects: Bright • R • 97 mins.
Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has inherited a flair for the family business. Like her brother Danny, she is a thief. Released from prison, she plans her next big heist. Assembling a new crew, she explains the target: They’re going to rob the MET Gala.
This all-female sequel to the Ocean’s franchise is a breezy heist comedy. As with most of the Ocean’s movies it’s a safe bet that this is going to be a shallow but enjoyable flick, filled with cool outfits, funny lines and a plot that makes little sense.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 110 mins.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
How did a man in a cardigan with homemade puppets become one of the most beloved children’s show hosts? It was a combination of luck and an infectious worldview that taught kindness to parents and children alike.
This documentary about the rise of Mr. Rogers and his legacy is filled with interviews on his impact on children and the Civil Rights Movement.
If you watched Mr. Rogers as a child, or if you want to feel the impact of a compassionate worldview, watching a movie on the power of kindness may be a relief from our increasingly pugnacious times.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 94 mins.