Aeon Flux
traces its lineage back to a cartoon that no one ever watched because it wasn't as compelling as Beavis & Butthead, and the movie carries on that ambitious tradition. For those who haven't had the pleasure: Four hundred years from now, an unbeatable plague has rendered all of Earth uninhabitable. A few lucky survivors have managed to wall themselves off into a post-everything, Sting music video-state where they can pursue a life of idle chatting and lounging, but cracks are starting to appear in their Jericho paradise. The citizens are ruled over by a increasingly demanding governing council. It provides food, water and the latest fall fashions, but accepts no disobedience - anyone who becomes a threat is whisked off the streets in broad daylight. Even more alarming, the government refuses to offer any comment on why, every now and then, the sky overhead is criss-crossed by a flying, motorized jellyfish. With Pete Postlethwaite at the controls. Wearing an empty peanut shell as clothes. Soon enough, a popular rebellion arises.

Charlize Theron - no doubt drawing on the raw emotions generated by the tearful cell-phone calls with her agent between takes - takes on the role of the boy-haired rebel angel, Aeon Flux. She and her fellows are lieutenants in the budding insurgency; as they skulk around the campus-of-the-future setting, they communicate through cochlear implant walkie-talkies, plan strategy, and admire each other's leather duds. But whenever they are summoned to a meeting with the rebellion's mastermind - Frances McDormand in a crayon-red fright wig - they must put on wedding veils. Why? What kind of insurgency is this, anyway? Are they part of a fertility cult? Are they working to bring to power the editorial staff of Modern Bride magazine? The movie doesn't say, which is strange, since it says just about everything else - exposition diarrhea is a major sin of the screenplay. Most of the plot consists of what Roger Ebert might dub Talking Conspirator scenes - meaningless cross, double-cross, and double-double-cross talk among both the insurgent leaders and the government figures and their minions. There are a few scenes that actually devolve into a Mexican blab-off: four or five people stand in a circle and talk until they agree amongst themselves that someone has, yes indeed, gone over to the other side.

When the discussions finally break down, out come the guns and someone invariably tries to take a shot at the lovely Charlize. But is the Aeon Flux character even supposed to be a human female? God knows she looks it, and she does duck the bullets, but she is also capable of parlor tricks that you won't see your uncle perform at Thanksgiving dinner. She is able to loll her head back, rattle it, and instantly replace her left eyeball with a supereye that can see with molecular clarity. She can hold up a glass of water to this eye and determine whether it contains any poisons, and so on. (Since the story contains a subplot about a marriage, I fully expected a scene where Aeon goes ring shopping and rattles up an ocular gem loop, but it never happened) She is also unusually gifted at close-quarter combat, snapping necks as easily as Bubble Yum and using her leathery gams to retire innumerable stooges - there are worse ways to go. Unfortunately, the director cheats a lot in these action scenes - lots of extreme close-ups at double-time MTV speeds so that you're not sure what you saw.

Some bizarre fidelity to the cartoon source might explain the Aeon Flux outfit that is on display for the entire film - a Devo-era glam cocktail dress with optional mosquito netting for the face. Do the fans consider this outfit to be a signature of the character? If so, then Charlize Theron was the wrong choice for the part. With her broad upper chest and Quarterback Princess shoulders, she looks restricted and angular in the get-up - and even more so when performing the spine-snapping acrobatics required of the part. If she could somersault around on her fingertips in this outfit, she could do it while tied with ropes, presumably. Despite this quirk, some of Aeon's main action set pieces might have lived up to their promise if the film was directed with more competence; one scene that comes to mind is when two characters fight while teleporting back and forth between two rooms. Punched in one room, crashing into a table in the other, and so forth. There's a good idea there, but no follow-through.

The director puts much energy - inexplicably - into resolving the preposterous particulars of the revolution/counter-revolution storyline. You can practically see fast-forward sunrises and sunsets happening in the background as the actors stare straight ahead in a grim gaze and try to hit their pointless marks, again and again. Even the music becomes infected with monotony - it's mostly variations on a low-intensity anime-kitsch muzak theme that feels like it was auto-composed on the Yamaha keyboard I got for Christmas in 1986. If I were paid to suggest music for the film, I might have pointed out that the new Alanis Morissette cover of Seal's Crazy would make a peppy, harmless choice for end credit music. Aeon Flux has a very 'through a fractal on a breaking wall' kind of vibe. I could go on, of course. The film commits other sins - like raising intriguing sci-fi issues and then leaving them unexplored, not pushing the boundaries of PG-13 nudity, and preferring bad one-liners to no one-liners - but since it wasn't even screened for critics, it doesn't seem fair to beat a dead horse.