If you’ve seen one of the lead actors of Code 8 (2020), you’ve seen Amell.

America’s favourite brand of flavourless beefcake (available in regular and extra dour) are the marquee names in this tediously grimdark superhero tale, co-written and directed by Jeff Chan and based on his crowdfunded short film of the same name released in 2016.

Like the original short, this feature-length take is set in a world where a small percentage of the population is gifted with superpowers. Rather than elevating them, however, “Code 8” hews closer to the “X-Men” approach, these super-powered individuals (apparently the writers never came up with a catchy epithet so fell back on calling them ‘powers’, often making the dialogue feel lazy and clumsy) are an economic underclass, unsubtly paralleling the immigrant labourer experience.

Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) is a Class 5 Electric whose mother, also a power, is critically ill. The financial hardship drives Connor into a life of crime, recruited by Garrett Kelton (Stephen Amell), the local crime lord’s chief lieutenant. Kelton puts together a series of heists to cover his boss’ losses from a recent drug raid but as the situation spirals out of control, Connor must wrestle with his conscience.

The original short, produced in order to support the crowdfunding for this feature, ironically provided a more interesting and textured take than this dreary, cliché-filled expansion. It’s almost surgical the way the movie removes any of the interesting implications of the world provided in the short in order to deliver a tired heist-gone-wrong action movie which can’t seem to get beyond its simplistic people-as-Pokémon approach to ‘superpowers’.

What it lacks in insight and drama, it compounds in the casting of its blandly competent leads. Stephen Amell turns his scowl dial up to ‘11’ in an attempt to exude some form of menace but neither he or Robbie Amell have anything like the charisma needed to prop up material this worn out; their combined screen presence makes vanilla look spicy. The script lacks wit and humour and while the visuals are occasionally interesting, they never manage to escape the obvious shadow of Neill Blomkamp, from whom this film borrows heavily.


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