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Generation Um

Year: 2013
Production Co: Voltage Pictures
Director: Mark Mann
Writer: Mark Mann
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Bojana Navakovic, Adelaide Clemens

Keanu Reeves can never be accused of sticking to a style or genre and staying there. His latest film, Generation Um, is completely unlike The Matrix films and his forthcoming 47 Ronin.

But it's while watching Generation Um that you'll be reminded of two other films. The first is Kevin Smith's 1994 breakout hit Clerks. In one of his podcasts, Smith explained how the premise of Clerks was partly his response to a girlfriend who told him every story was about something. Smith disagreed, designed Clerks to have no theme or point of view whatsoever and later had to admit he agreed with her – even his slacker comedy was about the ennui of early adulthood.

But Generation Um might be the movie Smith was aiming for – a film so aimless, slow moving and where so little is resolved or fleshed out it indeed seems to be about nothing at all.

The second movie you're reminded of is The Terminator. Casting a former bodybuilder who couldn't act was James Cameron's masterstroke. He needed a remorseless, emotionless robot whose only purpose was endless pursuit. As history shows, Schwarzenegger's acting range (the width of a human hair) inhabited the T-800 perfectly.

Often ably supported by special effects and much better actors, Keanu Reeves' shortcomings as a performer are often masked, but with no Morpheus, speeding bus or Tilda Swinton as the archangel Gabriel to support him, Reeves' single expression and monotone fade against the background.

He plays John, driver to escorts Mia (Adelaide Clemens) and Violet (Bojana Navakovic). John lives in a crappy New York apartment and it seems the noise of the world around him drives him crazy (though you're never sure because Reeves never breaks his single facial expression).

He's a guy stuff happens to rather than a guy who does anything. His one decisive act is the completely out of place theft of a video camera, leaving a gang of line dancing cowboys chasing him through the streets of New York to get it back.

He gets away and take the camera to Violet and Mia's place where he starts videoing them, asking questions that have no consequence and recording answers that make no sense in increasingly lethargic scenes of discussion and inaction.

The dialogue and sense of movement in the movie is so sparse and disconnected none of it has any impact. There's absolutely no story apart from three anchorless New Yorkers talking, drinking, fighting and occasionally fucking, none of them ever giving you a true indication of their inner state.

It no doubt means a lot to both the cast and writer/director/documentarian Mark Mann – many scenes are weighty with meaning and emotion. But like the best of David Lynch, none of them have anything to do with anything or anyone else in the movie. It's not entirely correct to say Generation Um doesn't finish anything because it doesn't really start anything either.

If you like impenetrable art films you might appreciate something about it. If you like a story steer well clear.

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