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Chris Knight: In the futuristic Code 8, Jeff Chan brings a dystopian city to life with limited resources

A scene from Code 8.
A scene from Code 8.

The basic technique in science-fiction cinema is to either extrapolate some current technology or social situation, or invent something new and extrude that into the future.

Or both. There’s a whole lot of extrapolation and extrusion going on in Jeff Chan’s Code 8, based on his 2016 short of the same name, which kicked off crowdfunding for this feature.

To begin with, the futuristic Lincoln City (Toronto, heavily made up) is patrolled by giant police drones, which can disgorge robo-cops to fight crime. It’s also in the grip of a drug crisis; an opioid-like substance called Psyke, extracted from spinal fluid. (This has people asking; are the donors victims or traffickers?)

But that ain’t the half of it. This busy dystopia also features the “power-enabled,” a persecuted minority whose supernatural abilities include telekinesis, mindreading and healing powers. Think X-Men but without the safety of Charles Xavier’s Hogwartsian boarding school.

Robbie Amell stars as Connor, whose special power is the ability to harness electricity – he can light a bulb by holding it in his hand, or short out a local grid with a little more effort. Like a lot of “powered” people, he ekes out a living working under the table in construction.

Connor’s mom (Kari Matchet) is sick and needs expensive surgery – one more hot-button issue in the film’s crowded storyline – so he accepts a dodgy job with a criminal gang headed up by Garrett (Stephen Amell, the actor’s real-life cousin) that soon finds him taking part in more lucrative but also more dangerous jobs.

Along the way he meets Nia (Kyla Kane), whose healing abilities are quite handy in the underworld. Connor thinks she might be able to help his mom.

Chan does a great job on a limited budget; about the only effect that fails to impress are those police drones, which are meant to be as big as helicopters but somehow never register as more than shoebox-sized. And Code 8 is a lesson on how you can hide Toronto’s Toronto-ness with a bit of futuristic street furniture and clever cutaways from any shot featuring the CN Tower.

Amell is a bit problematic as the lead; he’s meant to feel out of his depth, but often comes across as a little dead-eyed instead. And Chan’s screenplay, co-written with Chris Pare, struggles with whether it wants to craft a social commentary about the way minorities are marginalized, or an exciting bank-heist flick. Either way, it’s a lot of future to absorb in 98 minutes. But in the spirit of the movie I say: More powers to him.

3.5 stars

Code 8 screens Dec. 7 in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax, and Dec. 13 on demand.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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