Upgrade ★★★

There's no question that Leigh Whannell has an ability to create edgy genre scripts with sprinkled smidgens of horror and tension.

He's scripted a number of James Wan's directorial successes and deserves credit for authoring the SAWs and INSIDI-i. And THE INVISIBLE MAN from two months ago (two months!? Holy crap! It feels as if that film was released two years ago...) has its own share of moody concept.

In UPGRADE, Whannell successfully creates a world on the periphery of our future. Most of the world feels contemporary except a few cars, rich folks' architecture, and of course the central conceit--that a computer chip can be fused with a quadriplegic's nervous system to re-provide neural control.

What makes this a clever A.I. subset of the Sci-Fi family of films is that the chip has Manual and Auto settings. In manual, paralyzed Logan Marshall-Green is able to move his body on his own. Miracle. In Auto, the chip (cleverly named 'Stem') controls Marshall-Green maximizing his muscles and nervous-system processing in a way that makes him a bit of a superhero. And furthermore, Stem is, in essence, a personal Siri whom only he can hear.

UPGRADE has some inspired moments using sound effects, camera-work, and Marshall-Green's physical movements to great effect--actually creating a completely original film entity, this guy out for revenge but who is periodically puppeteered by a microprocessor on his spine. And this violent pseudo-futuristic world is fun to watch.

However, UPGRADE has a whole lineup of terrible performances. Marshall-Green's physicality totally, works, but his line deliveries are terrible. The love interest, Melanie Vallejo, is a former Power Ranger, and her performance seems borrowed from that quality of television. Harrison Gilbertson is a youthful prodigy who created the Stem chip, and Benedict Hardie plays a previously upgraded heavy. These two performances are two of the worst in recent memory (Gilbertson desperately overacting, and Hardie desperately miscast and acting uphill with the smuggest of mustaches) painfully drag the film down a number of notches.

Leigh Whannell is an interesting filmmaker whose transition from behind the keyboard to behind the camera seems to have potential. However, indications are here that his work with bringing characters to the screen and bringing actors' performances to life are what need the upgrade.

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