Code 8


★★★1/2

“Code 8” began its life as a short film back in 2016. The short served as a calling card for an Indiegogo campaign to finance a feature-length version. The filmmakers requested $200,000 and wound up raising $3.4 million when all was said and done. The movie was given a VOD and limited theatrical release late last year before dropping on Netflix this past Friday, Apr. 10. It’s currently the most-watched movie on the platform and the third most popular program behind “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” and “Ozark.” A spinoff series is in the works for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s newly-launched Quibi app, which specializes in content that’s 10 minutes or less and intended to be watched on cell phones.

Cousins Robbie and Stephen Amell have been with the project since its inception. They starred in and executive produced the short as they did with the feature. The movie takes place in fictional Lincoln City. This is a world where 4% of the population is born with superpowers. Instead of being celebrated, the gifted are pariahs who live in abject poverty and are often pursued by a militarized police force. Robbie stars as Connor, a superpower-enabled day laborer, who is in desperate need of money to help care for his ailing mother, Mary (Kari Matchett). Connor gets roped into a gang of thieves led by Garrett (Stephen) for the opportunity to make real bank. Garrett answers to drug kingpin Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). As Connor and Garrett’s criminal activities mount they draw the attention of a police officer by the name of Park (Sung Kang).

I like the Amell’s, which says something as my wife has a crush on both of ‘em.  I diligently watched The CW’s “Arrow” up until a season or two ago and thought Stephen made for an awesome Casey Jones in what’s the second best “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” flick to date after the 1990 initial offering. Robbie was always solid in guest stints on Arrowverse’s “The Flash” and is immensely charming in 2015’s underseen and underappreciated teen rom-com “The DUFF.” Despite being the bigger name, Stephen takes a backseat to Robbie in “Code 8.” Connor is the character around which the whole movie revolves and Robbie is more than up to headlining the picture. Kang is an actor I’ve dug ever since seeing him in Justin Lin’s directorial breakthrough “Better Luck Tomorrow” and his Han is my favorite character in “The Fast and Furious” franchise. He brings an inherent likability here, but his character is woefully underwritten. Bryk gives boffo baddie in “Code 8,” but I had to stifle laughter every time he appeared as he looks exactly like the actor Jason Clarke sporting Nicolas Cage’s wigs from “Next” and “Bangkok Dangerous.”  

The whole enterprise plays out like “Heat” meets “Chronicle” with a healthy dose of Neill Blomkamp-ish imagery thrown in for good measure … it’s kinda like a grittier “X-Men.” Fair warning: Netflix slapped “Code 8” with a TV-MA rating citing language … they must have forgotten about or overlooked the scads of people shown being graphically shot and killed. It’s a real credit to director Jeff Chan and screenwriter Chris Pare (who served the same roles on the short) that this all plays bigger than its meager budget should allow. Robotic officers who drop from drones look like leftovers from Blomkamp’s Chappie … and I mean this as a compliment. It’s a discredit to Pare that the picture sags in its center and draws on threads that it never fully addresses. Perhaps these loops will be closed on the spinoff series? But one could also argue that a work should be able to stand on its own.

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