Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's On Netflix?: iBOY

Welcome to another installment of WHAT'S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick out a film or series currently playing on Netflix and review it for the fans. This week we look at another YA sci-fi flick with an instantly-dated, gimmicky title, iBOY.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Before I start dispensing my thoughts on this week's Netflix pick in the same way the local pigeon population dispenses its chief export, there's a couple of things I need to double-check. This should only take a moment.

It is 2017, right? By that I mean, most of us by now have a decent grasp on what computers can and can't do? We understand that, just because a person is in possession of some digital doo-dad or other, that doesn't immediately turn them in to Hacker Superman, yeah? I just need to be sure, because I'm having trouble justifying the existence of a movie like iBoy at this particular point in human history.

If this were, say, 1990, a movie about a teenager who gains the ability to hack the planet with his mind after pieces of his iPhone get stuck in his brain would make more sense. Personal computers were still new ideas, so we could be forgiven for assuming they all had godlike powers. Better still if this were the early 1980s. The era that gave us the technological ignorance that was the plot of Superman III would be perfect for a movie like this.

But surely now, in our more tech-savvy time, there aren't that many people who believe that an iPhone that hasn't even been jailbroken can hack car engines, cause TVs to explode, and produce shock waves that can knock a grown man down. And yet, these are all things that Tom, the hero of this popcorn flick for unreconstructed Luddites, can do. The pieces of smartphone in his head aren't even complete components, either; they're just broken fragments driven in by a thug's bullet. And yet, in mindless YA-movie fashion, these random, broken bits turn Tom into a superhero for the Internet of Things in very short order.

This movie reminded me of a short-lived superhero published by Marvel Comics back in the primordial time of 1983, who could receive and send CB radio broadcasts through plates in his skull. This too is a ridiculous premise, but at least it has some small, anecdotal basis in reality, since there have been reports of people with braces picking up analog radio transmissions (poorly). A person who can spy on people through their webcams because a shard of touchscreen got lodged in his head, on the other hand, is irrational technophobia of the worst kind.

The film tries to distract us from the mighty suspension of disbelief it requires with some slick visual effects. As Tom's mind becomes increasingly attuned to the digital world following his accident, we occasionally see text messages or video windows floating before his eyes in midair. These are things you can do on a smartphone, so while Tom's abilities stay in this area it's almost tempting to forget the idea this movie wants to sell us. And then Tom will do something outlandish and the illusion comes crashing down again.

That leaves us with a formulaic somebody-done-somebody-wrong story, as Tom uses his powers to fight back against the small-time hoods who run the housing project where he lives. We've seen enough of these stories to know how this will eventually work out, and the movie offers no surprises along the way. It's too bad that the cast does such a good job with the story, including Maisie "Arya Stark" Williams, who plays Tom's could-be girlfriend and the reason he tries his hand at vigilantism in the first place. The cast does an admirable job of trying to save iBoy from its own untenable plot, and so they're not the reason the movie fails. It fails because it assumes its audience doesn't interact with computers constantly on any given day, and audiences today deserve more credit.

Robert's Score: 4 / 10

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