by Brandon Thomas
Every filmmaker dipping a toe into the science fiction genre is looking for that singular hook that will drive audiences wild. Think The Matrix with its kung-fu fighting in a simulated reality. Or Christopher Nolan’s Inception with its grounded look at dream invasion. Co-writer/director Arvi’s Cerebrum may not reach the heights of either of those movies, but it certainly seeks to have a hook of its own.
Tom (Christian James) has returned home at the behest of his father, Kirk (James Russo, Django Unchained and My Own Private Idaho). The two men are barely on speaking terms, but Kirk has asked his son to help him on a project that could have a significant impact on retaining the memories in dementia patients. The project becomes much more complicated when corporate espionage, murder, and body-swapping come into the picture.
Cerebrum doesn’t have the desire, or the budget, to go big like The Matrix or the movies of Chris Nolan. It’s not a film built around pushing technological limits or grand action sequences. This is a film that wisely knows its limits. Instead of a watered-down wannabe action-palooza, Cerebrum has more in common with a classic murder mystery. There’s even a pinch of neo-noir thrown in for taste.
Still, there’s an inherent cheapness to the film that’s hard to shake. The memory loading tech never goes beyond looking like anything more than a dollar store brand smartwatch. The movie would’ve benefited greatly from a better visualization of the technology and how the implementation of memories works.
Dual roles come into play in a big way during the latter half of the film, and James as Tom/Kirk does a commendable job swapping between the two. Sure, sometimes it’s as easy as throwing in a southern accent for Kirk, but James manages to get the interesting tics and mannerisms that Russo has as an actor. And speaking of Russo, the veteran character actor makes an impression with the limited screen time he has. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a stretch to see Russo as a renowned scientist, but it’s not Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist Bond girl kind of a stretch.
Cerebrum lacks the “oohs” and “aahs” of a lot of modern sci-fi, but it still manages to tell an intriguing and economical story that’s worth a look.