Deep cyber-creep

Movie: eXistenZ

Our Rating: 3.50

"eXistenZ is not just a game," sexy inventor Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) intones ominously, in front of a group of executives from Antenna Research, during a time period in the not-too-distant future. "It's going to be a wild ride."

The game enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting a demonstration of the latest in a line of games that are controlled by squishy game pods and are directly connected to the human body via a jack permanently located at the base of a player's spine.

Goo, gore, body parts, head trips and bizarre sexual imagery. Yep, we're back on the decidedly bizarre turf of David Cronenberg, the wildly imaginative director who has alternately delighted and repulsed audiences with the brainy science-fiction and horror of '80s flicks "Scanners," "Videodrome," "The Fly" and "Dead Ringers," not to mention 1995's "Crash," a shocker about folks who fetishize bloody car accidents.

Cronenberg's latest was inspired oddly enough by his 1995 interview of Salman Rushdie, the author under death threat for writing "The Satanic Verses." Cronenberg's suggestion, mulled over with Rushdie: What if a game designer, rather than an author, were on the run from murderous fanatics?

It makes for a mostly compelling flick, a mishmash of sci-fi, adventure, technology and cyber-reality concepts that might remind viewers of current box-office hit The Matrix, as well as the psychological drama "The Game."

Allegra, after her demonstration of the new game, is assaulted by a man whose weapon is a hairy, bony, gun-shaped device that shoots bullets made from human teeth. The game-pod goddess and Antenna Research public-relations guy Ted Pikul (Jude Law) make a quick getaway and hit the road.

Their first stop is the Country Gas Station, operated by a strange fellow named Gas, played by a menacing Willem Dafoe. Their journey encompasses a trip to a pod hospital and former ski lodge operated by Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm); a trout farm packed to the gills with more creepy-crawly, slimy creatures than we've seen on screen in a long time; and a Chinese restaurant where the aforementioned are served as delicacies.

It's all freaky-deaky stuff and immensely entertaining. What's "real" and what's not? Cronenberg keeps us guessing till the end -- and for a long time afterward.

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