Tom (played by James Franco light, Christian James) returns to his estranged father, Kirk (James Russo), to participate in a series of experiments using an invention that records memories. They learn that a person can “load” their memories temporarily into another person’s mind, overriding their personality for a time. The technique is designed to repair lost memories to Alzheimer’s patients.
Assistant Bruno (Anirudh Pisharody), meanwhile, is looking to make millions selling the technology to a wealthy Middle Eastern gentleman who sees it as a means of creating immortality.
Fans of Philip K. Dick might perk up their ears at this summary. Shades of “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” are definitely part of the ancestry of Cerebrum, though everything takes place in a low-tech cowshed in Texas.
The story has issues. Recorded memories would of necessity come with gaps between the recording and the upload, but the tech is treated like a full personality swap. More importantly, it’s really hard to care for the characters. They’re mostly uninteresting and shallow, and Tom himself is kind of a drip. When some of their shared history is revealed there is wailing and weeping, but it’s just pointless bathos unless the story can make the characters real for you.
Kirk dies, and Tom loads his memories into himself to continue the research, and they communicate with each other through recordings. Christian James then has to act like James Russo. An interesting challenge. To his credit, he does okay, but in later scenes when more characters are swapped and there are accents and mannerisms to emulate, it gets very cartoonish and weak.
Cerebrum has an interesting premise. A “what if?” science fiction story with large implications played out in a small, local scale. In that, it reminds me of that magic mirror movie I reviewed a while back — Parallel. I liked that one better, in part because it played with “what if” without needing to come up with explanations. Every time Cerebrum explains something, it gets worse.
And everyone takes the wonder of the premise so easily! Tom does, when his father explains it. Tom’s old girlfriend Chloe (Alexxis Lemire) does, when Tom explains it. Hell, the police take everything so casually, even though it is very clear that this invention is unknown and there is nothing like it in existence in this world.
The makers of Cerebrum haven’t done much, and as such this shows potential for greater things. As a film that stands on its own, though, it is not entirely successful. In a two-hour runtime, it still feels like a pilot for a TV show that doesn’t feel the need to make the protagonists well-rounded, there’s going to be a whole season for that.
It was a clever idea, poorly applied, presented by acting not quite strong enough to carry the film. Too bad. Read some Philip K. Dick stories if this sort of thing interests you.
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