Writer-directors siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski cash their latest blank check from Warner Brothers with “Jupiter Ascending,” an excruciatingly empty chunk of eye candy that spends more than two hours trying to convince us they’re not ripping off “Dune.” It’s Tacoma native Frank Herbert’s “Dune” without the desert, all exposition and back story and alternate history — as inconsequential as the weakest Young Adult sci-fi, but without the pretty young teens who populate those “Maze/Hunger/Giver/Divergent” casts.
It’s not that the Wachowskis don’t reach for some big ideas here, the notion that “Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe,” that one thing the super-rich and entitled have over the rest of us. Time equates not just to faster travel and no waiting in line at the doctor’s office or DMV. It’s longevity, a near-immortality length and quality of life that the oligarchs of this universe are playing with.
A seriously miscast Mila Kunis is this YA version of “The Chosen One,” a poor Russian emigre, daughter of an astronomer forced to clean toilets and change beds in Chicago. Aliens are looking for the woman her dad named Jupiter, seeing her as their reincarnated “Queen.” There are bad aliens, led by Balem (a whispering Eddie Redmayne), and possibly a good alien, Caine (Channing Tatum) who comes to her rescue — in the nick of time, every time. And there are a lot of times.
Watch the way Kunis minces through the complicated digital sets when she’s supposed to be running for her life. Even her stunt double looks bored.
The endless chases and shootouts are about fetching her or killing Jupiter — the often-cloaked alien minions get mixed messages from their overlords. Jupiter is always falling — out of buildings, spaceships or, from towers in the vast alien city complex hiding inside Jupiter. The pointy-eared Caine has these neat hover-boots that make Tatum, frequently shirtless, look like Pan or a centaur as he skates through the futurescapes, dodging fire and falling debris, waving his digital shield, shooting to kill.
Kunis is most at home in the film’s few flashes of humor, such as when Jupiter takes a shine to her protector, or when the queen-to-be deals with the Kafkaesque nightmare of the alien super-race’s bureaucracy.
“I will never complain about the DMV again!” And she speaks for the audience when she later asks, “Could this get any weirder?”
Sean Bean plays Stinger, a serious-minded ex-comrade of Caine’s (they’re both warriors who have lost their wings, literally). He takes over the endless explaining of exposition when Tatum’s Caine runs out of breath — something about the way aliens populated the universe, Earth being a gene-spliced colony. Stinger’s been hiding out on Earth in a ramshackle farmhouse honeycombed with bees.
“Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty,” Bean growls, offering the film’s first giggle. “Bees don’t lie.”
Look for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, James D’Arcy and the eye-candy junkie Terry “Brazil” Gilliam in bit parts.
If you didn’t catch on with the sell-out “Speed Racer” or the sugary idiocy of “Cloud Atlas,” if you haven’t reconsidered your affection for the one decent installment in the murky “Matrix” trilogy before now, “Jupiter Ascending” should seal the deal. The Wachowskis are trapped in their own matrix, burdened with inflated budgets and the need to visually try and top themselves, losing track of actors, story and emotions, all in pursuit of that next fanboy film fix. After “Jupiter Ascending,” Warner Brothers should put them into rehab. They need to quit this drug, cold turkey.