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MOVIE REVIEW : Pollution Apocalypse in 'Circuitry Man'

October 31, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The quirky, amusingly ingenious "Circuitry Man" (AMC Century 14) whisks us into an all-too-believable near-future when the air has become so polluted that Los Angeles and New York have been driven entirely underground, and anyone going "topside" between the two cities must carry their own oxygen supply.

We quickly discover that this sorry state of the environment has had a decidedly negative impact on human behavior as debuting director Steven Lovy, a UCLA alumnus, and his co-writer/production designer brother, Robert, an Art Center graduate, take us into what seems like the bowels of some derelict industrial complex that brings to mind the bleak environments of "1984" and "Brazil."

Queen of this underworld is robust, heartless Lu Leonard, who promises her unhappy bodyguard, Lori (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), her freedom in return for one last job: deliver an illegal shipment of computer microchips--the electronic narcotics of the future--to New York. Accompanying her will be one of Leonard's creations, a handsome "bio-synthetic" gigolo named Danner (Jim Metzler), eager to search for his lost love in the Big Apple.

Soon, "Circuity Man" is in Mad Max territory, as Lori and Danner begin an adventure across the endless desert that the United States has become. Pursuing them is the crazed Plughead (Vernon Wells), so named because his bald pate is sprinkled with electric receptacles, each of which serves some nefarious purpose. Along the way Lori and Danner acquire a colorful, scruffy passenger (Dennis Christopher), who has a Dead End Kids accent and a passion for swallowing leeches.

"Circuitry Man" is nothing if not derivative--even "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" and George Lucas' student film "THX-1138" come to mind--but it's consistently distinctive and funny, with Robert Lovy proving himself infinitely resourceful in the stretching of what's got to be a very modest budget.

Wheeler-Nicholson suggests there is vulnerability lurking beneath Lori's Ramboesque exterior, and Metzler shows us that Danner can be as brave as he is dashing. Leonard, Wells and Christopher punch up every moment they're in front of the camera. "Circuitry Man" (Times-rated Mature for language, adult situations) hasn't the steady flow and momentum of the sleek, big-budget studio action-thrillers, but it has a bemused, fresh view of human nature that makes us eager to see what the brothers Lovy do next.

'CIRCUITRY MAN'

A Skouras Pictures release. Executive producers Miles Copeland, Paul Colichman. Producers Steve Reich, John Schouweiler. Director Steven Lovy. Screenplay Lovy, Robert Lovy. Camera Jamie Thompson. Production designer Robert Lovy. Costumes Angela Balogh Calin. Associate producer Toni Phillips. Film editor Jonas Thaler. With Jim Metzler, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Vernon Wells, Dennis Christopher, Lu Leonard, Barbara Alyn Woods,, Paul Willson, Andy Goldberg, Garry Goodrow.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

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