Hot Chip [Review: Upgrade]

Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars

Grey Trace (played by Logan Marshall-Green, and yes Grey Trace is a name) is a car mechanic in the near future. This is something of a rarity when most people seem to be digital workers, but he fills a niche repairing and upgrading retro cars belonging to rich collectors. He and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) return one such car to reclusive billionaire programmer Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Eron, Eron… where have I heard a name sounding like that belonging to a rich and eccentric tech mogul? No, I musk be mistaken. Anyway, on their way home Grey and Asha's self-driving car is hacked and diverted to a deserted scrapyard where they are attacked by a gang of thugs, leaving Asha dead and Grey paralysed and left for dead. He is mysteriously rescued by Eron who offers him a  cure for paralysis in the form of STEM, an experimental AI chip implanted into his spine. When the chip wakes up and starts talking to him things get a bit weird.

With it's near-future setting and speculation about human-computer interfaces and our dependence on technology, Upgrade may look like an indie science-fiction movie. Don't be fooled. This is actually a well-developed setting and backstory for what is really a violent martial arts thriller about Grey's quest for revenge. When taking on the gangsters Grey gives STEM temporary consent to take over his body and execute impossibly deadly moves - the result is a more lethal and messy version of Jackie Chan's The Tuxedo.

Upgrade is a great example of a movie that is deliberately not a blockbuster. The CGI effects are content to set the scene, add to the darkness of the atmosphere, and then sit back and appreciate the nicely choreographed action with everyone else rather than trying to hog the limelight. The fighting and action scenes do hot up as the plot progresses and Grey comes up against tougher and tougher opponents, but there's no CGI-laden boss battles, everything stays small scale and human, and it's this perfect balancing act that earns Upgrade the ultimate accolade of three Sci-Fi Gene stars.


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