November 1, 2012

'Cloud Atlas' amusing, sometimes confusing


---- — It’s been 13 years since the Wachowskis, Andy and Lana (formerly Larry), burst onto the Hollywood scene with “The Matrix,” and it’s been four years since they’ve made a movie (“Speed Racer”) of any kind.

“Cloud Atlas” is their bold, ambitious attempt to recapture that “Matrix” mojo. It falls short of that goal, but the time-jumping epic makes for an entertaining three-hour investment at the theater.

Based on British writer David Mitchell’s 2004 best-seller, “Cloud Atlas” must have been one of those books that was deemed unfilmable, until the Wachowskis — along with director/composer Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) — actually managed to do it.

The movie weaves together a dizzying six different stories and timelines, starting in the South Pacific in the mid-1800s and reaching into the 24th century.

The six stories interlock, and the film cuts between them constantly. Additionally, the same actors appear in different roles in all, or most, of the different stories, often varying their age, race and sex. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, for instance, each play six different parts, while Hugo Weaving (“The Matrix”) plays a villain in every scenario.

If it sounds confusing, well, it is. Everything sort of ties together eventually, in a sketchy kind of karmic way. Even now, I don’t quite understand everything, but I’m OK with that. It was an interesting ride.

“Cloud Atlas” is pretentious at times, without a doubt, but it’s never ponderous. Some of the six stories are less interesting than others, but you’re never more than a few minutes away from returning to one of the good ones.

The story set in the England of today is the funniest, with Jim Broadbent playing a publisher locked in a prison-like retirement home. Another lively story, based in 1973 San Francisco, features Berry as an investigative journalist taking on a dangerous corporate head (Hugh Grant). The storyline set in 2144 Neo-Seoul offers romance between a revolutionary (Jim Burgess) and a cloned waitress slave, and has some exhilarating Matrix-brand action.

“Cloud Atlas” is awkward and rambling at times, and some of the prosthetic makeup is laughable (sorry Mr. Hanks). It seems to want to answer the mysteries of the universe, and falls short.

Still, even if it falls short of answering the mysteries of life, it’s a visually exciting spectacle and it doesn’t seem as long as it really is. “Cloud Atlas” doesn’t meet its grand expectations, but it’s not a failure.

Rental recommendation: “Babel” didn’t offer the eternity-encompassing scope of “Cloud Atlas,” but its many pieces fit together better.

Grade: A

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Cloud Atlas

Grade: B

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent

Rated: R (for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use)

Running time: 172 minutes