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Film review: Dark City

Film's artificial flavor can't hide its lack of meat

When critics talk about films being "style over substance," they're definitely talking about movies like "Dark City," which looks good but leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

The long-anticipated (and long-delayed) follow-up to the 1994 surprise hit "The Crow," the film features writer/director Alex Proyas' unique vision of a futuristic city where reality may be just an artificial creation.

The special effects and set designs are dazzling, though only up to a certain point, and eventually this odd futuristic thriller has to rest on its story line, which alternates between being predictable and confusing.

It doesn't help that the characters aren't sympathetic enough for the audience to care what's happening to them. More glaring than plot faults, though, is the obvious theft of imagery from the films of German director Fritz Lang, as well as some nods to "Brazil" and the French fantasy "The City of Lost Children," all of which are superior to this muddled mess.

The central character of "Dark City" is John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell, from "Cold Comfort Farm"), an amnesiac who finds himself the object of a citywide manhunt.

Among those who are looking for him are his torch singer wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly); Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt), a detective who believes he may be a serial killer; and the Strangers, shadowy, somewhat inhuman and definitely deadly figures in black.

The only person who seems capable of helping John is Doctor Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), a psychiatrist/scientist who appears to be helping the Strangers carry on an experiment to alter people's memories, as well as time and space.

John seems immune to their reality-warping powers and begins developing similar mental talents that may be the key to freeing the people trapped in the perpetually nocturnal city/prison.

Proyas makes a crucial error in treating the subject even more seriously than "The Crow," and the dialogue (co-written by Proyas and "The Crow: City of Angels" scriptwriter David S. Goyer) is unintentionally funny at times and often just plain dumb.

And most of the cast is either too remote (Hurt, again doing his "aloof" routine, and Sewell) or terribly affected, such as Sutherland, whose halting delivery sounds eerily like William Shatner impersonating Peter Lorre.

"Dark City" is rated R for violence, including some disturbing images, brief gore, nudity and sex (seen in flashbacks).