Movie Review: ‘The Belko Experiment” misses opportunities to build story
While watching “The Belko Experiment,” one question kept running through my mind, “Who would work for Belko Industries?” More specifically, how did their human resources department manage to trick 80 Americans into working for Belko Industries?”
It had to come up at some point during the interview that any potential candidate would be forced to relocate to Bogotá, Colombia to work in an isolated office high-rise which is catty-corner to a decommissioned military hangar where Blackwater-style military ops just kind of hang out.
If and when that detail was revealed, do you think it happened before or after the job candidate was told they would have to get a tracking chip implanted into the back of their skull because of the constant kidnappings that are occurring in and around Bogotá, Colombia?
I realize the economy is a mess, but who would be desperate enough to not only relocate to Colombia, but willingly put something inside of their head — that for all intents and purposes, is probably just an explosive device — just to ensure that Trish in accounts receivable will find their body after the kidnappers dump it into a swamp?
The premise behind “The Belko Experiment” doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense but that wouldn’t be a problem if the film followed through on its heavily hyped “Office Space” meets “Battle Royale” concept. Instead, “The Belko Experiment” fuses the stilted, non-laughs of “Dilbert” with the uninspired laziness of another forgotten “Battle Royale” clone, “The Condemned”.
In the film, Belko Industries employees are locked within their office high-rise one morning and ordered by a disembodied voice to kill their co-workers. If they choose not to, the voice will take it upon itself to kill them instead.
Assuming this to be a prank, the white collar drones ignore the voice, until the tracking devices in their co-worker’s heads start exploding. As it’s quickly revealed, Belko Industries is just a shell company obfuscating an ominous social experiment that pits people against each other for reasons the film mostly leaves unexamined.
Directed by Greg McLean — the same man who, as of yet, hasn’t equaled the scuzzy impact of his freshman effort “Wolf Creek” — with a script by “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” James Gunn, “The Belko Experiment” requires a directorial touch pitched somewhere in between John McTiernan and Edgar Wright. McLean is neither.
It’s hard to say how much comedy or social commentary appeared in Gunn’s (who was originally set to direct) screenplay, but under the auspices of McLean whatever might have been there falls flat; most notably the bungled, anti-climactic payoff to a gag involving a plucky John McClane stand-in.
Pacing is also a problem for a McLean. The film doesn’t really start moving until about an hour in, which is unfortunate considering that “The Belko Experiment” is only 88 minutes long. But even once it starts moving, it never fully takes advantage of it office-bound setting.
Where are all the bitter rivalries that should be coming to a violent end? Why did Gunn and McLean take the easy way out by, implausibly, giving an office building an armory? Where is all of the improvised, stationary store weaponry? “The Belko Experiment” is by no means a bad movie, but a much better movie is lurking within its flaws. And, unfortunately, it wouldn’t have taken much more effort to draw that better movie out in the open.
On the plus side, “The Belko Experiment does benefit slightly from a cast of character actors and B-movie regulars that includes Michael Rooker, John C. McGinley, oily Tony Goldwyn and Sean Gunn as a paranoid stoner. But the cast isn’t enough to distinguish “The Belko Experiment” from the various “Battle Royale” knock-offs that have emerged over the years. A missed opportunity that goes down easy even as it’s easily forgotten.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
‘The Belko Experiment’
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley
Director: Greg McLean
Weekender Rating: WW
Length: 88 minutes