MINORITY REPORT

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick

With Tom Cruise, Colin Farrelly Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Lois Smith  Peter Stormare and  Tim Blake Nelson

***


Awkwardly structured and marred by an overly sentimental ending, Spielberg's A.I. might have been a better film to think about than to watch. (Of course, many  people found the ending subtly disturbing, a position I might have adopted if not for its treacly score.) MINORITY REPORT reverses the pattern: it's somewhat interesting  to ponder - and particularly relevant to  present events - but  more entertaining than thoughtful. The two don't necessarily need to  be trade-offs, but without Kubrick's posthumous guidance, Spielberg returns to his old tricks: making a pretty good  sci-fi/action movie.  Not an achievement worth sneering at, but it's slightly disappointing given the leaps A.I. took.

In the year 2054, the murder rate in Washington, D.C. has shrunk to zero, thanks to a group of "Pre-Cogs," three people submerged in a bath and doped up. Children born to drug-addicted mothers,   they  have  developed the skill to see into the future. The woman of the group, Agatha (Morton), is the most powerful of the three. Meanwhile, a large police bureaucracy, including John Anderton (Cruise),  has developed around them, arresting people who are about to commit murder. Under the supervision of patriarch Lamar Burgess (von Sydow), the prediction system is likely to go national,  The murder of John's own son lends some credibility to the concept, because his life would have been saved if Pre-Crime had been instituted a little earlier. However, the system may not be 100% trustworthy.

Jonathan Rosenbaum has suggested that the seductiveness of sci-fi visions of the future often stems from their  brief glances of  alternative worlds. I haven't read Dick 's story MINORITY REPORT, but he was  usually up to an entirely different game. For all its flaws (including a terribly prosaic ending), TIME OUT OF JOINT is one of my favorite Dick novels because it imagines a complete,  alternate world out of the stifling conformity of '50s California. Even at their worst and least convincing, Dick's books created their own universe. (For an imaginative,  moving  piece of sci-fi that  imagines abusive "robotic relatives" rather than  the ersatz children of A.I., give rapper El-P's "Stepfather Factory" a listen.) MINORITY REPORT hints at this universe without ever completely following through it.

Techno-fetishism, aided by fairly convincing, special effects.  reigns supreme in MINORITY REPORT.  There's certainly something appealing about it,  like the Imac with the flat screen and clear keyboard on which I'm typing this review. Yet the future of MINORITY REPORT raises as many questions as it answers. What exactly does  Clarity, John's drug of choice, do? (Even if he's addicted, it seems about as dangerous as tea or one can of beer, judging from his behavior.) Is it the "perfected" version of a neuroin, a heroin-like drug whose effects on mothers produced the Pre-Cogs.  Or  Perhaps inspired by  Kathryn Bigelow's STRANGE DAYS, "cyberparlors" offering vicarious experiences of XXX porn and G-rated glimpses of nature exist, but we only get to see them once. (Amusingly, even  fantasies of murder will get one kicked out.)   What will happen to the Pre-Cogs as they age and die? Is there a search for a new children with these abilities, or any desire to do so?.  MINORITY REPORT's violence of brutal class divisions is a  reasonable projection of the urban future, especially when Janusz Kaminski's cinematography leeches color out of most  scenes,  but it also seems a bit prefab.

Cruise has the muscles, haircut and fashion sense of an action hero, but he's   essentially   bland  In MAGNOLIA, Paul Thomas Anderson finally managed to break down Cruise's shell, while Kubrick made his emptiness function as part of a world full of strange temptations. Of all films, THE BOURNE IDENTITY,  a spy thriller for a generation more enamored of Prozac and Vicodin than James Bond's martinis,  beats MINORITY REPORT at exploi†ing anomie. Matt Damon's blankness becomes expressive there, as he becomes a man who doesn't know his past but still has to kick ass. John thinks he knows his future and tries to prevent it while kicking ass: a more conventional, less compelling proposition.

As social criticism, MINORITY REPORT often hits home. The idea of personalized advertising - "travel ads" that cry out John's name while offering him a vacation - doesn't seem too far from Internet cookies which keep a record of all your personal on-line transactions.  (Go to amazon.com, and you'll often get a hilarious list of "personal suggestions" based on the books you've previously bought.) While Spielberg himself supports Ashcroft and Bush's willingness to "revise" the law in search of potential terrorists, Frank and Cohen's screenplay is far more critical of  such endeavors.  In one memorable tracking shot, surveillance "spiders" crawl across an apartment building, momentarily - but only momentarily - interrupting sex and arguments. Action meets substance: it's a great match. (Most of the time, Kaminski's camera paces back and forth, as if waiting for violence to happen.) That said, they do play devil's advocate by acknowledging their crime-fighting value.

However,   cliches and images borrowed from BLADE RUNNER, Dick and sci-fi writers like William Gibson and Bruce Sterlin eventually dominate. A sleazy underground doctor, anyone?  (Granted, the doctor's creepy  operation does set up a literally eye-opening gag in which John scrambles for his eyes above a sewer grate.) A world divided into posh consumerism and drug-addled slums (called the Sprawl)?  An ending lifted from SOLARIS, just without any emotional power?  I'm not particularly bothered by the philosophical and narrative paradoxes of the last 20 minutes, but they detract from the real appeal MINORITY REPORT holds: exploring a full-fledged  alternate world with plenty of resemblance to our own. If you're generous, it's got the guts to drop the audience in 2054 with few explanations; if not, it's a lazy patchwork but an exciting roller coaster ride with a conscience. You can probably figure out which side I'm on.