This was somewhat overlooked in the rush of "Is it real, or is it a fabrication?" glut of movies that came out around the same time. Getting its US release less than two months after The Matrix, and a month after eXistenz, it never really had much of a chance - it doesn't help that it lacks the "Wow!" factor of the former and the deliciously twisted cerebral aspect of the latter. Douglas Hall (Bierko) is the prime suspect in the murder of his boss, Fuller (Mueller-Stahl), who was working on an stunningly realistic simulation of pre-war Los Angeles. Fuller's daughter (Mol) and an LAPD detective (Haysbert) are also flitting around, as Hall tries to find the real killer. Can he locate the message left for him by the dead man inside the simulation? What is the daughter doing, moonlighting at a supermarket checkout? And can the hero retain his sanity, as the lines between simulated reality and reality become increasingly blurred?
And will the audience ever care much? That's really the main problem here. Bierko just doesn't have any noticeable screen-presence or charisma, as he flips between our world and the virtual one. You can certainly admire the design work in recreating thirties LA, but the film lacks the human aspect that is necessary to drive the tech-noir genre. Indeed, even the simulation apparatus appears to have strayed in from an eighties' pop-video: I kept expecting Frankie Goes to Hollywood to pop up. There is, inevitably, a twist, though it hardly counts as a surprise, and once revealed, the script then plods on for what seems like ever. I did enjoy Haysbert's detective, even if I expected him either to sell us insurance or call in Jack Bauer. Otherwise, any of the others that cover the same themes are a better bet for your entertainment.