Give props to Mexican sci-fi filmmaker’s artistic creativity

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:56pm
  • Life

One thing about science fiction: You don’t need a “Transformers”-level budget to spin out some wild ideas.

A case in point: “Sleep Dealer,” a Mexican independent set in a not-too-distant future that’s just a few stops away from the world of Philip K. Dick.

The movie opens brilliantly, in a poor Mexican village. Since a multinational corporation dammed the local river, residents must pay for all their water.

One young man, Memo (Luis Fernando Pena), decides to leave, after an attack on his family’s home is broadcast live on a television reality show (the home was targeted because of Memo’s work as a computer hacker).

The film never quite recovers from its beginning, because once Memo gets to the big city, the story shifts to a different subject. Seems many workers have been implanted with “nodes,” metallic plugs that allow them to tap into a variety of functions.

For instance, a guy like Memo can get a job working as a construction worker in America … without leaving Mexico. Hooked up with hundreds of others in a warehouse, his virtual movements are transmitted to the construction site, where robots complete the labor.

The foreman explains that it’s ideal for working in the North.

“They want work done,” he says, “but they don’t want workers.”

But something else is streaming out of the nodes, including Memo’s memories. He meets a woman (Leonor Varela) who shows an unusual amount of interest in plugging into Memo’s system.

All of this leads to a truly cool conclusion and even some nifty special effects (low-budget no longer means you can’t bring the hardware). The film’s energy goes in a bunch of different directions in the final 45 minutes, as a third character, a pilot (Jacob Vargas), becomes a more significant part of the story.

“Sleep Dealer” doesn’t hold its focus, but you have to give director Alex Rivera points for ambition.

And credit him with a gift for arresting images: When he shows you a character in the middle of the Mexican desert watching worthless reality shows on a high-definition television, he’s messing with your mind in a highly mischievous way.

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