Film Review: Andron

In this blatant knockoff of 'The Hunger Games' by way of 'The Maze Runner,' young people must endure a torturous televised competition. Lack of engaging characters won't play well to the target audience.
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In a dystopian future, ten attractive young people wake up in a dark, dank labyrinth. Not only do they not know where they are or how they got there, but they don't even know who they are: They have no memories of where they came from, what—if anything—they mean to one another, or why they're immersed in a game whose first requirement is figuring out what the game is.

A sweetly robotic voiceover helpfully clues in viewers that we—both the audience and the movie's unseen TV audience—are watching "The Redemption Games,” a sophisticated machine designed to select the strongest, the most cunning, the best, whose aim is "the conquest of freedom”; the winner or winners will be famous, rich and free, and viewers can bet on the outcome. The contestants have been implanted with a device that lets viewers watch the game through their eyes, allowing much of the film to play out like a first-person videogame (minus the fun of actually playing) in which the object is to avoid getting killed by guys with guns and light-up goggles.

Since the characters are designed not to have backstories or names (until their ranks have been seriously winnowed down), they're defined by a distinctive physical characteristic: There's the one with the blunt, flaxen bob (Antonia Campbell-Hughes); the bald girl (Skin, aka singer-songwriter Deborah Dyer), the cute guy with the long hair (Leo Howard) and so on. What fans of the competition—who are, like the players, members of the enslaved masses who support the luxurious lifestyle of the future's elite and need to be entertained into complacency—don’t know is that the games are rigged. Puppet-master Adam (Alec Baldwin, phoning in a smugly slimy variation on “30 Rock”'s Jack Donaghy), who's in cahoots with Chancellor Gordon (Danny Glover—think The Hunger Games' President Snow, only prone to bluster), is manipulating the action from behind the scenes.

Writer-director Francesco Cinquemani, a prolific Italian TV and short filmmaker, keeps things (and the beleaguered characters) moving, but it's hard to root for ciphers, no matter how imperiled. The exception is the bold, fiercely smart contestant played by Skin, of the U.K. band Skunk Anansie, who has a muscular charisma that burns right through her underwritten character. And while Andron is clearly aimed at a young-adult audience that has demonstrated a taste for dark tales about teens exploited by cruel adults, it's handicapped by not being a pre-sold property (specifically, an adaptation of a popular novel) as well as, though to a lesser degree, its R rating. Young adults who want to slip into R-rated movies will generally find a way, but it's hard to imagine this one generating that kind of must-see enthusiasm.

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