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BY SEAN EGAN | Making a science fiction film — well, a really good science fiction film — is not easy, and doesn’t happen often. It requires the creation of a new world with new rules, the burden of spectacle, and bringing engaging characters and an exciting plot to life. The best sci-fi flicks make this synthesis look effortless and engaging, while the most frustrating are the ones overreach and let that strain affect the final product. Unfortunately Carleton Ranney’s “Jackrabbit” falls more into the latter camp. While it gets credit for its ambition, it is a distinctly muddled affair.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Austin (dubbed City 6), “Jackrabbit” tells the story of Simon (Josh Caras), a computer technician for the only tech company around, and Max, a hacker — two unlikely partners brought together to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding a mutual friend’s suicide.
While the odd-couple mystery plot initially piques viewer interest, it quickly spirals into a twisty, self-referential and convoluted conspiracy without high emotional stakes — delivering standard-issue anti-authoritarianism and advocating on behalf of free will.
Furthermore Josh Caras’ performance as Simon leaves a lot to be desired. Caras is never bad (and indeed puts in serviceable work), but he and the script never quite give Simon enough presence to carry the film. This shortcoming is made all the more obvious any time Ian Christopher Noel is on screen. As Max, Noel exudes charisma and a quick wit that keeps his character entertaining throughout. He also has the chops to bring some emotion to the proceedings.
It’s not all bad though. In “Jackrabbit,” Ranney proves himself to be particularly adept at world-building — some of the toughest leg-work in any sci-fi film. His City 6 has a distinctly grimy, wild-west type atmosphere not often seen in large studio movies of this nature. The filmmaker’s limited budget has inspired some ingenious visual motifs and world-building strategies — the use of scraps of cobbled together, outdated technology (referred to as “Tetris” here), and the status of milk as an extravagant luxury give the film a welcome, lived-in quality. Displaying a keen eye behind the camera, Ranney makes sure things always looks beautifully ramshackle. Despite its flaws then, “Jackrabbit” does show quite a bit promise from first-time feature director Ranney — enough to wet our appetite for the day when he’ll be given a bigger budget. One can only hope his narrative skills sharpen, and his visual knack remains intact before then.
At the Tribeca Film Festival
Directed by Carleton Ranney
Screenplay by Carleton Ranney, Destin Douglas
Runtime: 101 minutes
Mon., 4/20, 9pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.
Wed., 4/22, 3:15pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
$18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee)
Visit tribecafilm.com/festival or call 646-502-5296