- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

''Minority Report" finds Steven Spielberg still stranded in unsatisfying regions of science-fiction allegory. Nevertheless, the new film may have substantial novelty value for Washington moviegoers because it purports to take place here in 2054.

The plot revolves around an innovation that proves grievously defective just as it's about to be expanded beyond the city and proposed as a national crime-prevention marvel. This is a "pre-crime" unit of the police force that specializes in stopping murders before they can be committed.

Supposedly initiated in 2046, the program has been a flawless experiment. An appalling murder rate has plunged because of the vigilance and expertise of law enforcement officers alerted to murder attempts by a trio of grotesque but arguably lifesaving young psychics known as "pre-cogs."

Named Agatha, Dashiell and Arthur in obvious homage to famous mystery writers of earlier centuries, they are kept in a floating state of dopamine-primed mental abstraction in a facility known as the Temple. When their thoughts reveal a murder being contemplated, telepathic impressions are transmitted onto a large display screen for investigating officers. The names of both presumptive victim and perpetrator are etched by a laser lathe on miniature balls that travel down adjacent tubes.

Usually, the police have two or three days to track down the suspect. Impulsive homicides, indicated by red balls, demand response within a matter of minutes. The prowess of Tom Cruise as Chief of Police John Anderton is demonstrated in an introductory sequence that observes him deducing a perp's address just in the nick of time.

Later, Anderton discovers that he has been identified as the next perp. He struggles to evade capture for about 36 hours in order to find out how such a mistake could have been made and to clear his name.

Mr. Spielberg and his collaborators struggle to sustain suspenseful uncertainty about whether Anderton is the target of a frame-up or a suffering avenger with an unconscious murder agenda. The first possibility suggests treachery in Anderton's own ranks. A nemesis is inserted at an early point. Colin Farrell as a Justice Department hotshot named Danny Witwer, entrusted with evaluating the pre-crime model before it goes national, is skeptical of its reputation for perfection. Despite his smugness, the skepticism always looks well-founded.

Mr. Farrell himself emerges with the best single showcase in the film because Witwer is contrived to rub you the wrong way before demonstrating valiant character traits.

The alternative to the frame-up scenario is more intriguing from the psychological standpoint. Anderton is obsessed with the disappearance of his young son, Sean, a decade earlier. Indeed, this loss has given him a special sort of emotional hold on the public and within the pre-crime apparatus. The case that ensnares Anderton seems to be drawing him toward his boy's abductor.

It's difficult to feel that the options have been juggled masterfully and then resolved. However, "Minority Report" offers gratuitous entertainment value in the look of the future. In addition to getting a low crime rate, the city evidently also is improved by a flashy transportation system, the Mag-Lev, which controls freeway traffic. An automobile could be traveling on rails upside-down and still feel upright to its passengers.

Newspaper advertisements and department-store displays are able to make personal pitches because retinal scanning is ubiquitous and the devices can read a person's entire purchase history. Pesky but elegant little robots called spiders are used by the police to perform retinal scans in certain situations. It's best to cooperate, but an entire sequence is devoted to Anderton as he tries to elude them.

The movie's system of illusion begins to collect miscalculations sooner than one would wish. For example, Anderton is hooked on a narcotic called neuroin, and you're never sure whether the police department has no drug guidelines or just makes a doting exception in his case.

Anderton's getaway sequences also look bogus and stale. An assembly-line chase (at a Lexus factory) becomes the season's third reprise of a far better sequence from "Chicken Run."


**TITLE: "Minority Report"

RATING: PG-13 (Sustained ominous atmosphere in a science-fiction context, occasional profanity, sexual allusions and graphic violence, with macabre and gruesome illustrative details; allusions to drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick.

RUNNING TIME: About 140 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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