Director Joseph Kosinski is flying high in Hollywood right now, with the much-needed, record-breaking success of his film "Top Gun: Maverick" now on his resumé. His follow-up film, "Spiderhead" (streaming on Netflix on 6/17) will likely be overlooked, as it should, when studios consider him for future projects, as it seems there was no energy left to give to this mildly clever, but mostly banal, dud of a film following how much he was able to pack in to "Top Gun: Maverick."
Kosinski reteams with one of his "Top Gun: Maverick" stars, Miles Teller, to give us this psychological-thriller about a state-of-the-art penitentiary called "Spiderhead." It's a prison without bars or cells, where inmates are given a bit more freedom than they would elsewhere. The trade-off is that they voluntarily take part in experiments conducted by scientist Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth). Most of these tests deal with giving the convicts some drugs and then studying how they react to them. Drugs are administered via small body packs that the prisoners wear on their bodies, and many have varying affects, from making the recipient violent, more talkative or even horny. Through a two-way mirror, Dr. Abnesti jots down notes in his notepad, and we're not meant to know exactly what they're trying to figure out, nor what his long-term motives might be.
Convicts like Jeff (Teller) become a favorite subject, as he happens to have formed a strong bond with Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), another inmate who works in the "snack" department. His relationship with her allows Dr. Abnesti to exploit some of his most powerful and terrifying drugs, and after awhile his intentions are revealed to both Jeff and to the audience.
But while some of this "convicts-as-lab-rats" stuff works, there is very little tension, drama or any characters to really care about. Hemsworth seems miscast (throwing on some glasses, we're expected to believe that Thor is now some sort of scholarly mad scientist) and Teller isn't given much to work with. The more we learn about what's going on at the prison, the less interesting it all becomes. It all barrels towards a ridiculous third-act, as if the film itself realized that it needed to inject itself with something - anything - in order to prevent it from being a total snooze-fest.
"Spiderhead" never becomes an interesting place for us to spend time at, nor does its inhabitants offer us anybody real to latch on to. The result is an overdose of mundaneness, a drug that never pays off what it promises, resulting in a total buzz-kill.
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Charles Parnell, Jurnee Smollett, Tess Haubrich, Nathan Jones.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski ("Top Gun: Maverick," "Only the Brave," "Oblivion," "TRON: Legacy").
"Spiderhead" is on Netflix on Friday, June 17th, 2022.
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