The slight initial curiosity piqued by zoom-shot movies quickly died because so few of them were watchable and because filmmakers were quick to find workarounds to create smoother entertainment while still observing COVID precautions. So “Zero Contact” comes along as a novelty that has more than served its purpose and aims at the dubious additional qualification as “world’s first star-driven feature film NFT”. (It was released in this form last September – whether anyone actually bought it as such is unknown.)
We’ll only circumvent this fact cautiously, as the aptly named “Zero Contact” has many more tangible ways in which it’s a steaming pile of nada. Producer Rick Dugdale and screenwriter Cam Cannon’s wannabe thriller has five protagonists scattered around the world roaring at their screens during a conference call where the fate of all mankind is said to be hanging in the balance from a sinister high-tech menace.
Saying it all, nothing appearing, the painstakingly convoluted opener to a planned trilogy isn’t lightened at all by intermittent appearances from Anthony Hopkins, the main ‘star force’ here. It’s hard to believe that viewers will return for two (presumably non-Zoom) ongoing sequels once they’ve waded through this Lionsgate release.
Opening up fictional news footage recaps the career of Finley Hart (Hopkins), the “enigmatic” genius behind an Apple-like tech empire from which he was eventually ousted. Already widowed, he then reportedly died of kidney failure and orphaned a now-grown son (Chris Brochu as Sam), whom he pretty much ignored during his lifetime.
So Junior Hart, who is at home caring for a baby while his wife is out of town, isn’t particularly pleased when a mysterious package delivery leads to an online meeting with four other people who are currently or formerly associated with Hart Enterprises Related are: Snarky Tech boss Trevor Williams (Aleks Paunovic) in Seattle; humorless German legal representative Veronica Schultz (Veronica Ferres); Japanese Chief Innovation Officer Riku Matsuda (TJ Kayama) in Japan; and CEO Hakan Nordquist (Martin Stenmarck) in Sweden.
They have been summoned to reactivate the Quantinuum Initiative, a type of machinery based on Finley’s discovery of the “unique truth” that appears to have been shut down by his enemies within the corporation. Exactly what it is, or what we’ll never quite figure out, despite throwing around terms like “alien technology,” “AI,” “teleportation,” and “space-time continuum reset.” It is also said that if it is not reactivated immediately, “a world-shattering catastrophic event” will ensue.
Well, that certainly sounds significant. However, that’s not enough to effectively distract us from being stuck on a Zoom call with five bickering strangers. Soon one of them is dead while the others suffer home invasions and other threats from the project’s shadowy enemies. As far as we’re seeing these things, it’s because the protagonists are carrying around their devices to film themselves for no apparent reason. Or maybe (as the on-screen graphics suggest) these devices are filming them without their knowledge. None of that makes Zero Contact any less of a film about a bunch of people talking conspiratorial nonsense while acting very hard to appear scared.
Needless to say, this puts the performers in a bind as they have to navigate a range of urgent emotions in a static contextual vacuum. They (including some supporting characters, including spouses) cope with the circumstances differently. Arguably the worst performance comes from Sir Anthony, whose haphazardly scattered interview flashbacks and video messages lead him to deliver improvised-sounding gibberish with the tongue-in-cheek self-indulgence of a seasoned performer he’s sure will delight every tic and utterance. It’s a particularly uncomfortable assumption to be so wrong.
“Contact” means building an epic, world-spanning puzzle that combines elements from both “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Matrix”, both coincidentally also trilogies. But there’s not a moment here that doesn’t scream “COVID-required invention” or take on a compelling narrative life of its own. While some thoughts have been poured into production designer Tink’s hiring, the notion that this film was shot in 17 countries is a worthless gimmick, as we’re almost entirely trapped in rooms with characters’ laptops and phones. Klas Wahl and Anders Niska’s largely electronic score seeks to create high tension around on-screen events that stubbornly refuse to become even remotely exciting.
And just when you think this nothing burger can’t get angry anymore, he spends a full 10 post-fadeout minutes on the credits. Oh, there’s more: as the names crawl by, we’re supposed to be awed by behind-the-scenes footage showing cast and crew applauding each other at the magic of creating a Zoom movie. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the simpler times when you see paint drying.
Zero Contact opens in 13 US theaters on May 27, concurrent with the digital and on-demand launch.
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/zero-contact-review-1235277003/ ‘Zero Contact’ review: The zoom-shot film subgenre is dying of screaming