Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: Netflix’s Sci Fi Flick, “Spiderhead,” Will Make You Wonder Who Really Directed “Top Gun Maverick”


Considering that “Top Gun Maverick” is a such a hit, praised by one and all, you’d think its director would follow it up with a really sharp project.

But the truth is, Joseph Kosinski is director with either an eye for good material, or a feeling for what he can handle. His previous movie with Tom Cruise, “Oblivion,” was pretty bad. His other films were not exactly classics. I’d heard some time ago that Cruise and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were unhappy with “Maverick” and brought in Christopher McQuarrie to fix it.

Seeing “Spiderhead,” which Kosinski made after “Maverick” (and would have come out with more space between them had the Cruise movie not been delayed for so long), the truth is out. It’s as if the director of “Porky’s” made “Slaughterhouse Five.” Dresden would have had a disco.

“Spiderhead” is uninspired nonsense, not the work of a visionary who made “Maverick.” It’s the work of someone who took a job and never questioned for once if the material made sense, or was intended to be funny or mocked. It’s based on a short story by George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) that appeared in the New Yorker. Hence, the famed literary magazine is somehow the producer of this movie. JD Salinger is rolling over in his grave. This is why he never gave film rights to his stories.

Netflix is letting this loose on Friday, not to theaters where people would walk out very quickly. Like “Bird Box,” “Spiderhead” is stuffed with capable actors, an implausible story, but looks just good enough that if you’re on the couch you’ll watch it because, why not?

You know the movie is bad almost instantly because there is a wall to wall jukebox of late 70s, early 80s mellow hits. There’s no score otherwise. The songs are meant to provoke emotions because the screenplay doesn’t, and no one knows what the heck is going on. But the songs keep playing to guide us through the haze since the screenplay just refuses to accommodate basic rules.

Somewhere, on some remote island, Chris Hemsworth is a scientist experimenting on really good looking prisoners. One is Miles Teller, who was responsible for deaths in a car accident. The other is Jurnee Smollett, who is too gorgeous not to forgive her for whatever she might have done. All the prisoners are hooked up to some kind of drug delivery system that floods them with emotions. Hemsworth and his assistant give them meds that trigger horny-ness, bliss, or violence.
And here’s the rub: for reasons I didn’t get, even Hemsworth has one of these devices, even though he owns the place. At night he uses the love drug to get off on his own. The guy looks like a male supermodel, but can’t get dates on the mainland? Come on.

New York’s Channel 13 always finds some indie movie you’ve never heard of to play on Saturday nights. If Netflix hadn’t sunk whatever, $50 million, into this garbage, it would have turned up there or on some cable channel and we would have asked ourselves, Who financed this thing? Instead, it will get a big Netflix premiere as an original film. But how can this be a Netflix original when they also have “The Power of the Dog” and “The Irishman.” Are they all supposed to be equally good?

On the positive side, “Spiderhead” offers good acting reels for Teller, Smollett, Hemsworth, and the rest of the cast. They’re all doing their best to sell this material, make it convincing, when you know they’re praying for a lunch break.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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