Director: Adam Randall
Writer: Joe Barton, Mark Denton, Jonny Stockwood, Kevin Brooks
Producer: Gail Mutrux, Nate Bolotin, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh
Stars: Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, Jordan Bolger, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Aymen Hamdouchi, Rory Kinnear, Miranda Richardson
After a violent assault leaves a cellphone embedded in his brain, a teenager uses newfound mental hacking abilities to exact his revenge.
Some people can’t get a cellphone to work again after dropping it once on the carpet. Teenager Tom Harvey, on the other hand, ends up with mental computer hacking abilities when his handset becomes embedded in his brain after a violent assault. Ashamed of abandoning his classmate crush Lucy during the attack, Tom looks for redemption by becoming an anonymous vigilante, using his newfound powers to unmask the mystery men behind the crime.
What a teenager, the film’s presumed target audience, might think about the premise of “iBoy:”
“Hey, this is pretty cool!”
What an adult film critic thinks instead:
“In what world of medical improbabilities is it remotely possible for a phone, even fragments of a phone, to safely lodge inside a human head? Are iBoy’s abilities dated to this iteration of technology? What happens when the OS has a firmware update? Does he have to dunk his dome in a bag of rice after showering?”
I don’t actually know if a young millennial audience would take to “iBoy.” I prefer to think lower ages don’t evenly equate to lower standards, and they would prefer a movie with higher entertainment value.
But I’m willing to concede “iBoy” wasn’t made with me in mind, and those for whom it was intended probably won’t see things the same way. My seasoned cynicism may come from a perception this movie has no use for, like a 75-year-old priest criticizing a married mother’s favorable opinion of “50 Shades of Gray.”
However, before dismissing my observations on similar grounds, consider that “iBoy” is based on a young adult novel of the same name by author Kevin Brooks, who was 50 at the time of publication in 2010. Perhaps it is the material that is out of touch, rather than just me.
Maybe a cellphone jammed in a skull isn’t any more outrageous of a way to obtain superpowers than being bitten by a radioactive spider. Be it Narnia’s wardrobe portal to another world or “The Human Centipede’s” unique dietary tract, often you have to get over an impossible premise to get into the fantasy that follows.
Except “iBoy” occurs in a grounded reality where the science behind forcibly inserted electronics essentially granting magical abilities is beyond unbelievable. This isn’t a colorful comic book world. This isn’t darkly humorous horror. This isn’t dystopian science-fiction commenting on contemporary culture. “iBoy” takes place in a crime-dominated environment of gangs, poverty, rape, drug abuse, and a stratified social structure. It isn’t even in the neighborhood of having the atmosphere necessary to pull off its plot.
Even if you hop over the hump of its setup, issues on the other side don’t justify the blind eye. “iBoy” is a morass of incomplete characterizations, unfinished subplots, and depressing fiction failing to incite excitement.
Main character Tom is given a smattering of background bits meant to make him likable, such as his crush on a cute girl at school, mention of overcoming an absent addict mother, and the inherent sympathy that comes with being shot in the head. None of these things actually constitute a character. Tom is as plain as protagonists come, and played as flat as a board through more moping and silent stares than can be counted.
Tom’s grandmother Nan has the no-nonsense attitude of a caring guardian with a bloodhound nose for trouble. She also happens to be an amusingly aspiring romance novelist. Yet infusing her with personality doesn’t give it to Tom through osmosis. Each time there is a pause for Nan to temporarily get in Tom’s way, main arc movement hits a wall.
A talented cast can’t fatten slim supporting parts because they’re written so minimally. Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones” is wasted as the object of Tom’s affection, with “iBoy” teasing Lucy as both a Lois Lane and a Mary Jane and then delivering on neither. Rory Kinnear does all he can to flesh out his role as head honcho in the hoodlum hierarchy. Even he can’t cut through the cliché of being a tea-sipping villain sitting cross-legged and reading while his henchmen beat the hero.
It could be that a millennial audience is young enough to have not yet overdosed on slow-motion climaxes set in the rain or to not see immediately through the sheep’s clothing of a supposed friend too eager to turn Tom’s attention in a different direction. It’s my true hope that most will see “iBoy” with the exuberant eyes required to eke out an enjoyable escapist experience. It’s my sad suspicion that many will find “iBoy” taking itself too seriously, content with convention when it could unleash the kraken of its crazy concept if only it had flair or ferocity.
Review Score: 45