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Future Chic

In Andrew Niccol's Gattaca, the cleverest (if not quite the most convincing) science-fiction movie of the year, the near future is inhabited by designer humans whose DNA codes have been rigged down at the lab for conformist perfection and by "in-valids," the inferior products of parents who've relied on mere faith and love. Never the twain shall meet: In this variation of Brave New World, the dispassionate test-tube types get all the breaks; the defectives are made to mop up after them.

So what's an ambitious in-valid to do? If he's Vincent (Ethan Hawke) and he's set his sights on rocketing off to Titan, Saturn's fourteenth moon, he makes a deal with a "valid" named Jerome (Jude Law) who's been knocked out of the success picture by a paralyzing accident, then tries to pass as a genetic imposter. Given the spot checks, this is not easy. How would you like to walk around with bags of someone else's urine and samples of his skin?

Niccol, a young New Zealander who made his bones on TV commercials, has the old Huxley/Orwell paranoia down pat, and he shows an affection for the kind of Fifties sci-fi flick where the uniforms are color-coded according to social status and the identity police (here led by the matchless Alan Arkin) are tenacious bulldogs. The style and architecture of Gattaca's world are retro-slick (nice work by production designer Jan Roelfs and costumer Colleen Atwood), and the message is one we've heard many times before: The urges of the human heart outrank the soulless perfection of the petri dish.

Vincent/Jerome's difficulties are compounded when the head of his space agency is murdered and the genetic-engineering cops descend to find a single alien eyelash at the scene. V/J's will to prevail is bolstered by a romance with Irene (Uma Thurman), a valid obsessed with a minor defect of her own. Will the lovers survive assault by an anti-human bureaucracy? You tell me.

Amid all the techno-thrills and futurist fantasies, Niccol brings the kind of sentiment--and downright solemnity--to his work that the sci-fi crowd gobbles up and that more skeptical types can find vaguely annoying. Little matter: Here's an inventive, frequently compelling take on the future that manages to write its own rules, produce its own look and come up with a hero who's worthy of our attention. Maybe this talented new director has filmmaking in his genes.

--Gallo

Gattaca.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. With Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin and Jude Law.

 
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