2 / 5 stars
If you have even a casual interest in high-concept science fiction, Upside Down seems too tempting to ignore — but that curiosity gets stomped on with unfortunate speed. The idea is intriguing: Two diametrically opposed worlds are controlled by inverse powers of gravity, with the destitute denizens of “down below” looking up at the beautifully lit (upside down) skyline of the wealthy, and vice versa. In this environment of nearly limitless physical opportunities, writer-director Juan Solanas centers his script on a romance; not that it’s necessarily a poor focal point, but Solanas takes on the genre with the swoony rush and sloppiness of a lovesick preteen. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Sure, we can excuse a little extra energy when it comes to matters of the heart. (And if star Jim Sturgess could keep his moo-eyed sincerity in check, we might have something, more on that later.) But Solanas seems not to stick to the constructs of his own physics, making it tough to suspend the necessary disbelief. Unless I’m missing something, Upside Down explains how gravity and anti-gravity work, and then carelessly stumbles on some of the details. It’s distracting as hell, especially for ardent sci-fi fans who pay attention to this stuff. There are far worse films — and certainly, worse-looking films — that follow their rulebooks more closely when it comes to reinforcing a new reality.
Regardless, the visuals of Upside Down are worth a peek. Cinematographer Pierre Gill (The Art of War) oversaturates the lower world with wet, foreboding grays and dots the upper world with gleaming, nearly blinding rays of sun – those choices may sound a little obvious and derivative, but they add a nice layer to a film that suffers from being remarkably thin.
The basic premise — probably too basic — is that Adam (Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst), a guy and a girl from opposite poles, have the chance to connect a decade after meeting as kids at the very tippy-top of their perspective lands. But counter gravities and strict laws aren’t the only forces holding them back. Seems Eden has a convenient, bizarrely temporary amnesia. (Cue to the Days of Our Lives theme.)
Of course, Adam needs to work a little illegal gravitational magic so he can exist on Eden’s plane (and yeah, their names really are Adam and Eden). As a newly hired inventor for the corporation that commands both ends of the planet, he can toy with anti-gravity in ways that get him to flip over into the other reality. With risks and side effects, both to the character and the storyline.
With that much plot reliance on technology, Upside Down should really deliver a bigger hi-tech thrill. I kept thinking of Tom Cruise dealing with augmented reality and spacy drug hits in Minority Report. Then I realized I was longing to see that movie instead.
Maybe Solanas could have used some of that Tom Cruise intensity instead of Jim Sturgess’ dopey, hopeful, wide-eyed innocence. Sturgess has been a marginal film talent (21, Across the Universe) with the occasional moment (Cloud Atlas), but this is just overly heartfelt mush. Even his opening, explanatory voiceover sounds silly. Maybe if the other citizens of the lower world exhibited some sort of shared immaturity as part of their stunted culture, it would have been excusable (not to mention more interesting).
If there’s an achievement in Upside Down, it’s the seamless way the two worlds converge at their shared equator. On floor zero of the big corporate building, meetings take place with some participants hanging from the ceiling. I mean the floor. I mean, their floor. Aw man, this could’ve been a really great time.