Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm
NY Distribution Status: opens 23 April 1999 (Dimension)

Grade: C-

Hard to believe now that there was a time, just a decade or so ago, when Cronenberg provoked career-high performances from actors like Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) and Jeremy Irons (Dead Ringers) -- that his various creepy obsessions (techno-organic mutation, deviant sexuality, etc.) were once explored within a context of recognizable human emotions. Here, inexplicably, he's assembled an amazing cast -- in addition to those listed above, there's Willem Dafoe, Christopher Eccleston, and Egoyan vets Don McKellar and Sarah Polley -- for a movie sans characters; if you're the kind of person who likes to stand around at an arcade and watch other people play video games, this is the picture you've been impatiently waiting for since birth. (Fans of expository dialogue, too, are sure to be thrilled beyond measure; I had to laugh at the glossary of terms included in the press kit, apparently compiled by somebody who hadn't actually seen the movie and didn't realize that its inhabitants do virtually nothing (heh) but stand around laboriously explaining things that anyone with a functioning brain stem had figured out halfway through the previous reel.) Salman Rushdie's predicament reportedly inspired Cronenberg's script, but eXistenZ has nothing whatsoever to say about the artist in exile, content instead to wallow in facile mind-fuck material about the nature of reality. (The final line is especially cringe-worthy.) I can't go into detail, unfortunately, without addressing the conceptual fiasco at the movie's core, which I'm loath to do for fear of provoking the ire of readers who haven't yet seen the film. Suffice to say that while it may sometimes be difficult to tell what's real v. what's "virtual" in this arid, meticulously crafted landscape, it's also utterly impossible to care.