In the not-so-distant future, even after all drugs have become legal, cops still have to hunt down illegal drug users and manufacturers. That’s the sadly underexplored premise of Justin Trefgarne‘s dystopian (is there any other kind?) sci-fi thriller that wears its Blade Runner influence too prominently on its sleeve. Boasting the canny use of suitably atmospheric, futuristic-looking locations, Narcopolis is far more impressive visually than narratively, with its tangled film noir plot making Raymond Chandler seem straightforward by comparison.
After a brief prologue set in 2044, the bulk of the action shifts backwards to 2024 London, where hard-boiled detective (again, is there any other kind?) Frank Grieves (a suitably grizzled Elliot Cowan, Da Vinci’s Demons) is patrolling the streets looking for illegal recreational drugs in a market controlled by such mega-corporations as Ambro, whose commercials — like those of the similarly malevolent company in RoboCop — are woven into the narrative.
The convoluted plot concerns the corpse of a drug addict who overdosed on an illegal new drug and whose brain is partly missing; a mysterious young woman (Elodie Yung) who seems to have a connection with the case; and a Russian scientist (Jonathan Pryce) with a strange aversion to technology, particularly cell phones, which is perhaps the one aspect to which some viewers may relate.
It’s all about as confusing as it sounds, with the attempts to provide an emotional layer to the proceedings via Frank’s relationships with his estranged wife (Molly Gaisford) and 9-year-old boy (Louis Trefgarne, the filmmaker’s son) failing to have much emotional resonance. Nor, for that matter, does the irony of having Frank select H.G. Wells‘ The Time Machine as bedtime reading for his child.
Featuring far too many subplots, supporting characters and red herrings to be comprehensible, Narcopolis is the sort of self-involved, self-indulgent sci-fi that will be of interest to only the most ardent genre fans.
Production: T Squared Films
Cast: Elliot Cowan, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Bathurst, James Callis, Harry Lloyd, Nicky Henson, Rufus Wright, Cosima Shaw, Molly Gaisford, Adam Sims, Louis Trefgame
Director/screenwriter: Justin Trefgarne
Producers: Eldar Tuvey, Justin Trefgarne, Paula Turnbull, Daniel-Konrad Cooper
Executive producers: John Cameron, Lisa Carroll, Simon Cole, Elliot Cowan, John Edwards, Jonathan Elstein, Liat Elstein, Roy Tuvey, Jim Walker
Director of photography: Christopher Moon
Production designer: Takis
Editor: Robbie Morrison
Costume designer: Cecile Van Dijk
Composer: Matthew Wilcock
Not rated, 96 minutes