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CODE 46 (director: Michael Winterbottom; screenwriter: Bruno Lastra (Bikku); cinematographers: Alwin Küchler/Marcel Zyskind; editor: Peter Christelis; music: Free Association; cast: Tim Robbins (William Geld ), Samantha Morton (Maria), Om Puri (Backland), Jeanne Balibar (Sylvie Geld), Essie Davi (Doctor), David Fahm (Damian), Shelley King (William’s Boss), Bruno Lastra (Bikku); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrew Eaton; United Artists; 2003-UK)
“The premise was sounder than the execution.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An intelligently made but not always absorbing doomed love story set in the near future in a totalitarian state. Maverick English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s (“The Claim”/”24-Hour Party People”) stylish tale about forbidden love in a fascist state is scripted by his regular collaborator Frank Cottrell Boyce. It comes up short of being a satisfying work leaving too much plot line hanging in the air. Though the love story worked in a curious but awkward way, the sci-fiction part was too murky and had a hollow “new agey” ring to it. In any case, the premise was sounder than the execution.

Code 46 refers to the post-clone sex crime of having unprotected sex without a license. If you violate the code you can technically end up having sex with your mother or a genetic double. Therefore these regulations are subject to strict enforcement by the authorities.

Professional psychic William Geld (Tim Robbins), working for the Sphinx insurance agency as an investigator, is living in Seattle and is happily married with a young son he absolutely adores. He travels to high-tech Shanghai to find a forger of travel permits (called “papelles”). People are allowed to travel outside only with an official passport. The passports are manufactured by a high-tech company in Shanghai, and one of the workers, Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), is a prime suspect of smuggling out the fake papelles. William using his method of intuition (abetted by use of a specially designed “empathy virus”) instantly knows she’s guilty but instead of turning her in falls madly in love with her, and spends the night in her bed. When a naturalist studying bats, Damian, gets a fake passport, he dies in the outside world unprepared to counteract the fatal disease he contacted. A week later William’s boss orders him back to Shanghai to straighten things out. Once there he finds out that Maria has been caught violating the code, but he now realizes the two have a deep connection that explains why he had no problem initially covering for her. They escape Shanghai to an impoverished Arabian settlement in the outside world. What rattles him is when she says “her mind is willing but her body is scared of him.” This puzzling communication becomes the main focus of the narrative.

A miscast dour Tim Robbins, giving off inadequate sensual vibes and seemingly uncomfortable in that role, has no business bedding down with a playful Samantha Morton. In this new age romance with glimmering lights and trendy music in the background, Winterbottom gives it a curiously beautiful look and mise-en-scène that seems more compelling than the narrative. It goes down the path of dividing the world into the haves (“insiders” living in sophisticated urban areas) and the have-nots (“outsiders” forced to dwell in desert shanty towns), but offers little to care about in either region as the narrative remains focused on the lovers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”