Uneven at times, Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE plays like a slightly more action-heavy episode of Black Mirror that is enjoyable while somewhat missing the mark.
In a future where technology rules the world (even more so than now), technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) receives an experimental computer chip implant after being left paralyzed during a robbery that takes his wife’s life. While the secretive operation is a means for Grey to seek his revenge, it comes, of course, at an unexpectedly high price.
UPGRADE’s strength is in finding the right balance between not taking itself too seriously, and not winking at the audience. The plot and involved science are both ludicrous, but the movie feels like an ’80s sci-fi throwback that is interested in having a good time while telling a story (that’s not as ‘smart’ as it believes). What is smart is how the marketing team did a great job at not correctly identifying Logan Marshall-Green as being Logan Marshall-Green. Casting the extreme Tom Hardy doppelganger probably helped a little at the box office, but Marshall-Green also proves to be a serviceable lead actor.
The weaknesses, however, are plentiful. Almost across the board, the acting – especially in the lengthy first act – leaves a lot to be desired. While the created world is interesting (if not visually pleasing), it’s filled with stock characters who would struggle to even be two dimensional. The bad guys are evil, the good guys barely exist outside of being place holders, and the one character that is given even a bit of weight has an arc that is obvious from the second they first appear onscreen. The only benefit is that UPGRADE is truly a popcorn flick masquerading as a ‘thinking man’s sci-fi film’.
The initial trailer gives away too much of the best scene (when Trace first discovers his new abilities), and the movie is shockingly low on actual action (maybe 20 minutes out of a 100-minute run time). The lulls are present as the movie doesn’t kick into full gear until towards the end of the second act.
UPGRADE leaves some potentially worthwhile ideas unexplored (the ‘dark web’ hacker, for one), and it fails to go as far as it could in terms of action, but it is fun escapism. A little more character development (especially for Betty Gabriel’s cop) would have helped the movie stick the landing better.
Three out of Five Beers.