Early in "Tron: Legacy" a skeptical executive asks the chairman of software giant Encom what valuable new features they've added to the 12th generation of their operating system. "We put a 12 on the box," he replies. "Tron" feels like a product of that cop-out mentality. The package is shiny and new, but the movie is a hodgepodge of ideas lifted from science-fiction classics, fast-paced action tedium and flimsy connective tissue. It's bloatware.
Garrett Hedlund delivers a bland, generic performance as Sam Flynn, whose father, Kevin, the software genius behind Encom, vanished two decades earlier during a long night at the office. An opening sequence of high-tech burglary establishes Sam as a chopper-ridin', extreme sports-doin' hacker rebel who steals Encom's source code and Wikileaks it on the net.
This public-domain Robin Hood is a perverse hero for a movie from Disney, which deploys battalions of bloodthirsty copyright lawyers to protect its properties. It's our first warning that "Tron" will be longer on CGI than IQ.
After falling down a digital rabbit hole, Sam finds himself in a plasticine dystopia among humanoid programs that duel like Frisbee-flinging, glow-stick-swinging acrobats. That's a potentially amusing illustration of the glitches that keep our devices from performing seamlessly. But the film never takes a moment to step back from its smash-a-palooza mayhem and see the joke. The script, by Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, who previously wrote the incoherent TV series "Lost," does not advance their reputations .
Instead, we get sterile, glossy visuals. Bubble-wheeled motorcycles and sleek jets that leave contrails of light in their wake, body-glove costumes with reflective tape pinstriping, and Jeff Bridges computer-morphed to his 33-year-old glory as CLU, the program created by the elder Flynn to keep Tronland running smoothly. After several decades in power, CLU has gone despotic, ranting like a 128-bit Mussolini and scheming to seize the ring of power from his creator. Kevin is on the scene, too, older and wiser, played by the present-day Bridges as a Buddhist gene-splice of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Dude. He delivers camp classic dialog like "You're messing with my Zen thing, man" with admirable commitment. The flesh-and-blood Bridges also out-acts his digital counterpart, whose lips never quite move in synch with his speech.
The best acting in the film is done by Michael Sheen as a purring, prancing albino nightclub owner (don't ask why programs need to party, you won't get an answer). Sheen's antic turn, melding Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie and Malcolm McDowell's high-kicking Alex from "A Clockwork Orange," is the film's too-brief high point. Like Daft Punk's hotly anticipated electronica soundrtack, the film sparks to life only briefly. Instead of bringing virtual reality to life, "Tron" delivers only virtual entertainment.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186