"Tron: Legacy" looks sharp in 3D, short on story

Fri Dec 3, 2010 9:13pm EST
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By Todd McCarthy

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Could "Tron: Legacy" be the first official sequel made nearly three decades after the original film?

There are perhaps good reasons why Disney waited so long, beginning with the obvious matter that the 1982 "Tron" was an awfully lame movie. Sure, it deserves a footnote in film history for marking the beginning of the CGI era. But, seen today, the film is so incoherent and groaningly scripted as to be tolerable only if watched in a rude "Mystery Science Theater 3000" frame of mind.

Kids who caught the original at 12 when it came out are 40 now and may recall it through a fog of uncritical nostalgia, which may help account for Disney's wise decision to delay the release of a spruced-up Blu-Ray edition until early next year (at least in Los Angeles, DVDs of the first film have been essentially impossible to come by in video stores in recent weeks, even in the remaining specialist shops).

The mildly surprising news, then, is that there are aspects of "Tron: Legacy" that are actually rather cool. Granted, these mostly fall within the realms of architecture, interior design and advanced motor racing techniques, but they are blessed compensations nevertheless. The fact that you get two (or three, depending upon how you count) incarnations of Jeff Bridges isn't a bad deal either, although it all ends up being a half-hour too much of a just okay thing.

Like the original, the follow-up should do decent business, especially in 3D engagements, where the dynamic staging of the action scenes will be seen to greatest effect, but fall short of the box office Nirvana achieved by top-drawer sci-fi and fantasy films.

In fact, the recent film "Tron: Legacy" most resembles — in its lustful embrace of high technology, the combat-game format, corporate control angle, enduring father-son allegiance and fundamental silliness — is the Wachowskis' "Speed Racer." To be fair, the premise of the current film is more intriguing, as it's built around a rescue mission in which, to retrieve Dad, the son must venture into the grid designed by his father but subsequently taken over by "programs" led by his old man's doppleganger.

That the grid is a perilous place is quickly discovered by Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), who, in his late 20s, is still pissed that his genius pop Kevin disappeared on him a couple of decades earlier. Vengefully playing elaborate pranks on his missing father's giant technology firm Encom, zooming around city streets on his motorcycle and living a cutting edge downtown life, Sam is soon lured to his old man's shuttered video arcade, where he finds the long elusive key that will allow him to follow his father into another sphere.

Aping the immortal moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when the mundane monochromatic palette of Kansas gives way to the riotous colors of Oz, "Tron: Legacy" bursts from 2D into nifty 3D at the 24-minute mark, when Sam breaks through into the grid. Almost at once, he's all but literally thrown to the lions when forced to put his biker background to good use (with his squinty-eyed looks and prove-it-to-me attitude, Hedlund does throw off some Steve McQueen vibes) during a deadly high-speed race in a darkly suggested gladatorial-style arena seemingly big enough to accommodate the entire population of Chicago.   Continued...