Kafka

Steven Soderbergh's 1991 follow-up to Sex, Lies, and Videotape suffers from a dumb screenplay written more than a decade earlier by Lem Dobbs and subsequently tinkered with by others. It takes someone vaguely like Franz Kafka (Jeremy Irons, in what may well be his first uninteresting performance) and plants him inside a formulaic mystery plot (shot in black and white) involving anarchists in Prague around 1919 that eventually turns into a formulaic SF plot (shot in color) involving mad scientists. The Prague locations are well used, and the color SF sets that belatedly appear are also striking, but the story built around them is much less compelling, and the connections with the real-life Kafka and his writing are so tenuous and simpleminded they don't even make much sense as a postmodernist joke. The distinguished cast—which includes Theresa Russell, Joel Grey, Ian Holm, Jeroen Krabbe, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Alec Guinness—performs ably, and a few of the film's fantasy conceits are memorable. But thanks to the script, none of these pluses add up to much, and a few nods to Orson Welles's The Trial and Terry Gilliam's Brazil don't help much either. 98 min.

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