REVIEW: SCOPERS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: EVAN OPPENHEIMER / SCREENPLAY: EVAN OPPENHEIMER / STARRING: NICK STAHL, MÍA MAESTRO, TARYN MANNING, BLAIR BROWN, WALLACE SHAWN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Released in the US with the more sci-fi title of The Speed of Thought, Scopers is the fourth feature from indie writer/director Evan Oppenheimer.
Scopers are people born with the capability to read minds, an ability which comes with the side effect of developing a neurological disorder by their 30th birthday that first renders them insane and then leaves them comatose. Having just turned 28, Joshua Lazarus knows his time is short, so spends it drinking and womanising, while government agencies hire his ability for shady and highly illegal suspect-monitoring. However, when he encounters the beautiful and enigmatic Anna he realises life might hold a bit more for him, including survival.
This is not the kind of film you might think it is. The premise invokes suggestions of espionage, psychic wars and doomed lovers, but it’s a far more subtle piece of filmmaking than that. While the telepathy is (obviously) an important aspect of the story, the focus is on the characters rather than their abilities, much as the comic book themes of Oppenheimer’s previous film Justice didn’t dominate proceedings. Just as in his other works, black comedy The Auteur Theory and romantic comedy Alchemy, it’s always human interaction that interests him the most.
Joshua’s growing relationship with Anna forms the bulk of proceedings, and since she's unaware of the scope of her abilities, she acts as a convenient audience surrogate as they are explained to her. Mind reading is shown via CGI (the quality of which is only slightly above that of '90s RPG gameshow Knightmare) of abstract rooms where spoken thoughts are overheard or two scopers converse telepathically. The latter can also lead to merging, in which each scoper opens their mind to the other and thus knows everything about them, which is implied to have a greater intimacy than sex.
Any story that deals with comic book-style superpowers needs to have rules in order to properly function, like the super-strength and invincibility of Unbreakable, the teleportation of Jumper and the flight and telekinesis of Chronicle rather than, say, the myriad of intriguing but inconsistent powers in Push. While the functionality of the telepathy is straightforward, its potential and limits are never properly explored, leaving the manner of its development somewhat ill-defined.
The real problem with the film is that it seems unsure of what kind of story it’s trying to tell, with much of the first hour mostly involving scene setting and establishing the abilities of the scopers. The actual government work they are hired for is barely seen, leaving questions of morality to be raised rather late in the day, and while final revelations can be predicted, no tangible clues foreshadow them.
Part thriller, part romance, part pseudo-comic book movie, Scopers is a distinct, if slightly muddled experience that makes an effort to do something different but only partially succeeds.