Writer/director Leigh Whannell skillfully builds on his impressive horror debut Insidious: Chapter 3 with Upgrade, a futuristic techno-thriller in which “old-fashioned” car restorer Grey (Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus) suffers a tragedy that turns him into a paraplegic and robs him of the will to live.
After accepting the offer of his client, socially-awkward tech genius Eron (Harrison Gilbertson, The Need for Speed), to implant Stem, a computer chip with allegedly limitless potential, in his neck and bridge the gap between his brain and extremities, the addition starts talking to Grey (in the voice of Simon Maiden, The Dressmaker), resulting in possibly the best human/A.I. conversations since Moon.
The synthesis comes with other perks, namely enhanced investigation techniques in tracking down the men who put Grey in a wheelchair and Matrix-level hand-to-hand combat skills once he confronts the perps. The joy of these fights are further elevated by impressive work by Marshall-Green — whose Stem-controlled body runs counter to his freaked out face and voice — and Whannell’s occasional SnorriCam visuals, or at least the impression of a fixed image of Grey while Stem blisteringly handles the dirty work.
Outside of the lead and Det. Cortez (Betty Gabriel, Get Out), UpGrade is plagued by awkward acting — that nonetheless soon feels at home within the film’s thoroughly genre-embracing realm — and final act plotting far more conventional than its prior events.
But rather than getting hung up on the cast’s performance limitations and the script’s ultimate ill-fitting tidiness, viewers are better off rolling with the inventive fight scenes, bad guys who load bullets into guns that have been built in their arms and the most violent practical-effect deaths this side of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande
(Photo: BH Tilt)