"Equilibrium" is like a remake of "1984" by someone who's seen "The Matrix" 25 times while eating Twinkies and doing methamphetamines.
It's set in someone's zany idea of a future totalitarian state where guys in black leather are burning all the poetry but haven't gotten around to picking up the machine guns yet.
As Keanu Reeves might say, whoa!
Boasting a handsome if over-digitized production and a bevy of male beauties as central characters (there's a big cheekbone thing going on here), the movie has evolved at least one degree from the dystopian broodings of Orwell. That is, its central conceit is based on antidepressants that weren't around in Orwell's day.
In this future, it is law that every day in every way, every citizen must take an injection of the drug Prozium, which reduces humankind to an efficient if narcoticized half-life. In exchange for this miasma of stupor, the folks do enjoy freedom from crime, aggression, jealousy and all those other messy attributes of what is called the Human Condition.
But writer-director Kurt Wimmer takes this intriguing idea a little too far and ventures off into Cloud Cuckooland: Since art stirs feelings, art (including poetry, drama and -- mein gott! -- movie criticism) is banned. Thus the reigning stud-pups of this future are an elite security cult, called Clerics. In obedience to "Father" (the movie's dim-bulb simulation of Orwell's horrifying Big Brother) they raid underground crypts and out-of-the-way apartments where heavily armed dissenters still bliss out on the Mona Lisa and Andy Warhol's soup cans and the poetry of noted revolutionary Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The plot proper turns on the adventures of Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale, cheekbone rating 9.8), who is a kind of mythically effective killing machine charged with blowing away Gerard Manley Hopkins readers with AK-47s. He's so efficient that he turned in his own wife for elimination, having detected certain deviant fondnesses for, I don't know, Hermann Hesse or something.
But one night, after an especially hectic day of rat-tat-tatting perverts and art mavens, he forgets to take his Prozium and those horrible messy tidal waves called emotions -- guilt, love, pain, regret, sentimentality -- come over him. He regrets frying his wife, and his former partner (Sean Bean, cheekbone rating 9.1) and, like the great Winston Smith before him, begins to develop his own set of deviant impulses. At the same time, his ambitious new partner (Taye Diggs, cheekbone rating 9.3). is beginning to suspect him. Then, in Plot Twist 18, he's falling in love with revolutionary poetess Mary O'Brian (Emily Watson, cheekbone rating 4.2) and, eventually (Plot Twist 37), consorting with a revolutionary leader (William Fichtner, cheekbone rating 765.9).
Busy, busy, busy. To make it busier, Wimmer has conceived the clerics as having Zen-like close combat skills; they can dodge bullets by undulating in slow motion, they can unleash stylized karate mayhem like Hong Kong stuntmen, they can shoot with scientific precision anything that holds bullets. This leads to far too many ridiculous dancelike gunfight/kung-fu sequences in which Cleric Orwell has been abandoned for Cleric John Woo.
I suppose one should make the obligatory tip of the hat to a movie that seems to have its heart close to the right place on hot-button issues like the over-narcoticizing of the unruly, the contempt for art, the tendency of all bureaucracies to veer toward suppression of internal dissension, and the anger of governments annoyed by citizens with guns. Yeah, fine, hat is tipped. But "Equilibrium" the movie, as opposed to the manifesto, is really, really stupid.
Equilibrium (106 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle) is rated R for incessant gun violence.