Minority Report

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, June 20, 2002

 

"Minority Report" is a philosophical science fiction thriller in which Tom Cruise plays a gung ho futuristic policeman who catches murderers before they kill, only to find himself tagged as the next felon. To save himself, he must prove his beloved Precognition system is fallible.

"Minority Report" should please sophisticated adult audiences. It's not hugely original, but director Steven Spielberg borrows from the best science fiction movies, especially "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall" (which were also loosely based on stories by Philip K. Dick), "Brazil," and "A Clockwork Orange." And Spielberg demonstrates once again why he's possibly the most gifted director ever.

Yet, talk of the movie grossing over $200 million sounds optimistic. The preview audience seemed more impressed than enraptured by this long, sometimes bleak, and rather difficult movie. Cruise and Spielberg made a film they can be proud of, even if it's over the heads of half the mass audience. I'd be surprised if "Minority Report" hauls in much beyond a solid but unspectacular $135 million. [Note: It earned $132 million domestically.]

Similarly, the ecstatic reviews for "Minority Report" are premature. This movie is easier to follow than Cruise's last sci-fi flick with religious overtones, "Vanilla Sky." Yet, while "Vanilla Sky" made more sense each time I thought about it, the holes in "Minority Report's" plot only became more obvious each time I tried to explain the story to my wife.

Still, logical lapses are seldom fatal to a movie, especially one as jammed with intriguing stuff as "Minority Report."

The gizmos in "Minority Report" catch the spirit of sci-fi legend Dick by being ingenious but misbegotten. For example, hyper-personalized advertising bombards the privacy-lacking Americans of 2054. Intensely irritating billboards scan your retinas and then call out to you by name and suggest you buy some more of your favorite tank tops from The Gap.

A leading science fiction novelist reminisced to me recently, "Phil was crazy all his life. I mean, like stark staring mad crazy. But, while most of Dick's pals thought him off his head, he could be a good friend."

The backstory: A new designer drug that appeals only to the educated rips through the upper middle class. Washington D.C.'s minorities flee from the millions of white drug addicts who pour into the slums of the Capital, where they are warehoused in crime-ridden federal housing projects three hundred stories high. The drug epidemic sends the murder rate soaring.

By making Washington's slums mostly white, this setup solves a major problem faced by movies and television shows about urban cops. White audiences are embarrassed and bored by the depressing reality of what big city policemen mostly do: namely, arrest minorities (especially in D.C., where a black is 56 times more likely than a white to be imprisoned.)

Instead, what interests white audiences is what Tom Wolfe called in his novel "Bonfire of the Vanities" the "search for the Great White Defendant." "Law & Order" became the most successful franchise in television history by taking Wolfe's satirical observation literally and concocting an alternative universe in which New York City's murderers are most likely found on Park Avenue.

Unfortunately, "Minority Report's" method for identifying precriminals isn't as compelling as its perverse product placements.

I had expected it would involve genetic profiling along with, say, a chip embedded in each citizen's head to monitor his brain chemistry. It's not implausible that in a half century, statistical techniques like these might be accurate enough to sorely tempt us to lock up likely criminals before they do anything bad.

Already, according to twin researcher Nancy Segal (author of "Entwined Lives"), scientists have found that when one identical twin has a criminal record, 53 percent of the time the other twin does too.

Instead, "Minority Report" relies on the impossible, which makes it easier for you to ignore the film as dystopian prophecy. Three mutant psychics are kept floating in a tank, where their brains are constantly scanned for fleeting images of murders about to be committed. Cruise interprets the precognitions and rushes his crack police squad to the scenes of the crimes-to-be.

For six years, every single murder has been precluded. But are there ever any false positives? The movie presumes that a single wrongful arrest would (and should) cause the demise of the system. Yet, the magical mutant method is so much more accurate than any real system of justice that the voters would forgive an awful lot.

In fact, Spielberg and Cruise don't seem to take the script's civil-liberties-uber-alles preaching too seriously. In this post-Sept. 11th world, many would agree with the actor's press junket remark that having precognitives on the police force would be "pretty cool." Indeed, it would, but it still wouldn't be as cool as this film.

Rated a hard PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content. It's not for kids.

 

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