Movies: Tron Legacy **
(PG, GENERAL RELEASE)
For reasons that elude me, the 1982 Disney science-fiction yarn Tron has achieved a kind of cult status among the impressionable. In it, a young Jeff Bridges played a programmer who is sucked into the insides of a computer and ends up fighting for his life in gladiatorial bouts organised by a kind of cyber fascist regime.
Sounds daft and so it was. And while the special effects were considered groundbreaking in their day, to me they just looked tacky.
Shows how much I know, because Tron's exalted reputation has encouraged Disney to invest a cool $200m in this sequel.
As the story opens, Jeff Bridges' character, Kevin Flynn, has been missing and presumed dead for decades, and ENCOM, the company he founded, has fallen into the hands of unscrupulous money-grabbers. Flynn's son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is still a major shareholder, but apart from the odd hacking stunt he's become a peripheral figure. He was only nine when his dad went missing, and naturally has the odd issue about it.
Which is probably why he reacts with extreme scepticism when an old colleague of his dad's tells him he's received a message from Kevin Flynn on an old 80s pager.
The message seems to come from an abandoned gaming arcade Flynn used to run in a bad part of town, and when Sam goes there to investigate he finds an old computer that's running a sinister-looking program. When Sam tries to hack into it, he's beamed into the virtual world of The Grid.
This is a dark and dangerous land presided over by a dictator called CLU 2, and after surviving several public fights against combat programmes, Sam is brought before the merciless leader.
He's shocked to discover that CLU 2 is his father, and puzzled that he doesn't seem to have aged a day. But the dictator only looks like Kevin Flynn because Flynn created him to rule the virtual world justly.
CLU 2, though, had other ideas, and he's about to kill Sam when a mysterious female rides to his rescue.
This is Quorra (played by Olivia Wilde), a cyber warrior who whisks Sam off to meet her leader -- Sam's dad. Kevin Flynn has been trapped in The Grid for decades, and has become the mortal enemy of the computer he created.
CLU 2 will not allow him to return to the human world, but Sam's arrival has opened up a long lost portal, and if they can get to it they may be able to escape.
Confused? If so, you're not alone.
After a brisk opening, Tron Legacy turns dark and dour once Sam Flynn enters The Grid. Blue and white neons are used to denote good and evil, and a stream of grimly impressive motorbike chases and battles take full advantage of the latest 3D gimmickry. It looks good enough, but it's an exponential bore, and the overbearing effects stifle most attempts at acting.
The technology used to create a young Jeff Bridges reminded me of that awful motion-capture stuff that Robert Zemeckis is so fond of, and gave me the creeps.
Long-haired and bearded, the older Sam Flynn comes across like God with a hangover, and his weary philosophical outbursts don't even appear to interest himself.
Hedlund, who plays the juvenile lead, is more or less a charisma-free zone, though in fairness to him, he's not helped by a sorry script that seems to have been tacked on to the special effects package as an afterthought.
Oddest of all is the performance of Michael Sheen, who plays a flamboyant nightclub owner called Castor.
Dressed like Ziggy Stardust, Sheen's Castor is as camp as the Christmas tree fairy, and seems entirely out of place in this dour and humourless film.
He played Kenneth Williams once, and might as well be here.