More than 40 people, most of them men between 30 and 50, filed into the first show at a downtown theater yesterday to see her. That would be Aeon Flux, the underground rebel in body-hugging black who fights for freedom in dark centuries ahead. Were the moviegoers there to see the screen version of the MTV animated episodes of the 1990s, or to see Charlize Theron in black leather and spike heels?
In "Aeon Flux," our title character (pronounced EE-on) works for the "Monican" underground against the police state society of Bregna, some 400 years from now. After an "industrial disease" wiped out 99 percent of the world's population in 2011, a leader known as Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) and his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) developed a cure. Now there are 5 million in Bregna, a city whose walls protect them (or so the State tells its people, nudge, nudge) from the blight outside. Trevor and Oren are still running the place hundreds of years later, which says a lot about that magical cure but not much about their sense of coiffure. They're still sporting wet-gloss hairstyles from the early 1990s.
Aeon gets her marching orders from the Handler, played by Frances McDormand, whose royalish garments and tousled red hair suggest Queen Elizabeth I caught in a wind tunnel. Aeon's leader is tough, but she has to be: Bregna rules its inhabitants with sophisticated weaponry and ubiquitous camera surveillance. Aeon's mission, she's told, is to destroy the central spying hub and assassinate Trevor "Chairman" Goodchild.
There's one problem, as we soon find out. Trev and Aeon have a little "history" between them.
With the exception of a few enjoyable action scenes, such as when Aeon and fellow operative Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo) flip and back-flip their way across a lethal garden of bullet-spewing trees and spikes disguised as blades of grass, "Aeon Flux" is surprisingly draggy. Much of it is taken up with the mystical attraction between Aeon and Trevor, with a lot of post-Philip K. Dick jabber about the dangers of dabbling with human nature.
Theron is appropriately slinky and gymnastic. A former ballet dancer, she performed a lot of her stunts, even sustaining a neck injury at one point. But director Karyn ("Girlfight") Kusama's tight angles and quick-flash editing don't permit us to appreciate that physical work anyway. Kusama seems to emphasize rendering Theron in perfect poses and lighting schemes as our heroine slinks through Goodchild's labyrinth of a fortress.
As for the sexy factor -- the spectacle of a lithe power-babe in S&M attire -- it's surprisingly muted. Where the animated Aeon strutted her stuff in risque straps and cups, Theron's version is far more conservative. The few erotically charged shots of her are coyly framed to keep the PG-13 rating and the theater temperature not much higher than lukewarm. It might be too much to call this movie "Freon Flux," but judging by the muted response of those moviegoers as they left the theater, it's hard to imagine the film ever being called too hot to handle.
Aeon Flux (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and sequences of violence.