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'Upside Down' demonstrates worlds of unfulfilled promise

Posted 3:21pm on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013

PG-13 (violence); 100 min.

Few movies have as rich an imaginative basis as Upside Down. For many people, that alone will make it worth seeing.

It takes place in a universe in which there are twin planets, so close to each other that they share the same atmosphere. But each has it own gravity. So you can stand on one planet and look into the sky to see tips of skyscrapers on the other planet. And if you go to the top of the highest mountain in one world, you can talk to someone on top of the highest mountain in the other world -- though to each other, you will be...upside down.

Now add in some socio-economic strife, some politics. The people who live in Upper World, they have it easy. They have good jobs and get paid well. The people in the lower world, meanwhile, are poor and exploited. And bridging the sky between worlds is an office building housing the corporation that runs everything.

This rich and bizarre premise is supported by fully realized visuals that make the fantastic real. Jim Sturgess plays a young scientist from the lower world who gets a job on the middle floor of an office building. This middle floor contains workers from both worlds.

This is a lot to take in, but it's all very enjoyable. So far, so good. Brilliant, in fact. The only problem is that, after creating the most wonderful fantastic frame, Upside Down doesn't devise a picture worthy of it. When they were kids, Adam (Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst), two people from different worlds, fell in love. And years later, against impossible odds, he sets out to have a relationship with her.

So Upside Down is a love story, but it isn't much of one, because he remembers her, while her memory has blocked the trauma of their youthful separation. So there is no desperate Romeo-Juliet intensity involving two people searching for a place where their love can be possible. Fine. It works. It's not garbage. But who can pretend it's not a disappointment?

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas

-- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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