Thirty years after David Cronenberg’s ground-breaking sci-fi flick Scanners (1981) comes this similarly themed and equally thought-provoking science fiction film, Scopers. Although not as impactful as Scanners, Oppenheimer’s film does raise many questions about what it means to be different and asks what would actually happen if someone really did have ‘super’ powers that could make them useful to governments and the specialist agencies that work for them.
Nick Stahl plays ‘scoper’ Joshua Lazarus, who is working for the NSA (and probably the CIA) in one of their undercover surveillance teams. They use John, and others like him, to read the minds of possible threats to national security to confirm or disprove the government’s suspicions regarding various suspects. Joshua’s handler, Sandy, has told him that no ‘scoper’ has lived to the age of 29 with their sanity intact and now Joshua’s own time is running out; he needs to make a decision as to how he wants to carry on once the voices in his head get too much for him: fall into a medically-induced coma and live on life-support for the rest of his life or take his own life.
While on a mission Joshua encounters another previously unknown scoper who he quickly falls for. Kira (Tara Manning) is the daughter of one of his targets, Ralph Diez, and is initially hostile towards the young Mr Lazarus, but they meet up again and begin to let one another ‘in’ through a series of mind melds that enable them to communicate with each other using just their thoughts. It quickly becomes apparent that someone, Kira or the CIA, is feeding Joshua false information about the nature of scopers and our hero has to get to the bottom of all the conflicting information before he runs out of time.
Scopers can be a frustrating watch. One one hand it’s a mildly engaging sci-fi drama aimed at a more cerebral audience and on the other hand it tries to be a love story, one which sadly almost derails the film’s main story-thread. While the romance side of things helps us to get to know the two main characters, it tends to slow the pacing down too much; I think a final re-edit might have sharpened this up nicely.
On the plus side there’s some great ideas in Scopers, with our telepaths being able to create their own virtual worlds to host mind merges in, and the fact that all the scopers know each other and are encouraged to visit each other’s minds, at least once, to really get to know one another and engender trust amongst them.
Unfortunately, Scopers’ twist is easy to see coming from miles off and the ending is a bit of an anti-climax and a little confusing. However, where the film does succeed is in illustrating how difficult it would be for scopers to have any real relationships, even with each other; the scenes with Joshua and his scoper friend, Anna, illustrate this nicely. It also demonstrates very well how agencies like the NSA love scopers because ‘they’re like wire-taps without the wires’.
There’s a natural chemistry between the two leads and Stahl also interacts well with his mentor and his female scoper friend. We gradually grow to care about Joshua and his plight, but unfortunately writer/director Oppenheimer undermines his own creation by shooting his film with very little tension so there’s little sense of danger or sense of urgency, with too many scenes shot in a strange static longshot format, which is fine occasionally, but this doesn’t really help to maintain drama and tension. I don’t think the music, by Andrew Gross, helped much either – it sounds like a made-for-TV film, with much of the music sounding like library music; very uninspiring.
While I applaud Scopers for trying to do sci-fi a bit differently to so many of the big flashy blockbusters, really finding the emotional heart of its characters and creating a romance that is actually quite endearing, it never really takes off and it left this particular viewer feeling a bit short-changed.
Overall I felt that Scopers was well acted and had an interesting tale to tell, but it just doesn’t tell the tale as well as perhaps it could have done at the hands of a more experienced director. A shame really as it has plenty of potential, perhaps even as a TV series…
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Scopers has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Signature Entertainment. There were no special features on the disc.