American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Guys are always using the same lame excuses. First Ted licks Allegra's bio-port. Then he says, "That wasn't me--it was my game character!'' Allegra is the world's leading designer of virtual reality games. her newest game is named "eXistenZ,'' and the bio-port plugs directly into the lower spine and connects to the game's control pod via an "umbrycord.'' When you're hooked up, you can't tell the game from reality. Not even if you designed the game.
"eXistenZ'' is the new film from David Cronenberg, the Canadian director who must be a thorn in the side of the MPAA ratings board. He's always filming activities that look like sex, but don't employ any of the appurtenances associated with that pastime. In his previous film, "Crash (1997)", the characters exhibited an unhealthy interest in wounds. This time it's bio-ports. And what about those "MetaFlesh Game Pods,'' input devices which combine the attributes of a joystick, a touch pad and a kidney? They pulse with a life of their own, and Allegra holds her as if it's a baby, or a battery-powered shiatsu machine.
"eXistenZ'' arrives a few weeks after "The Matrix,'' another science-fiction movie about characters who find themselves inside a universe created by virtual reality. "The Matrix'' is mainstream sci-fi, but "eXistenZ,'' written by Cronenberg, is much stranger; it creates a world where organic and inorganic are not separate states, but kind of chummy. Consider the scene where an oil-stained grease monkey implants a bio-port in the hero, using a piece of equipment that seems designed to give a lube job to a PeterBilt.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, that fearless adventurer in extreme roles, plays Allegra, whose new game is being marketed by Antenna Research. Jude Law is Ted, the company's marketing trainee. Allegra barely misses being killed during a demonstration of "eXistenZ,'' when an assassin slips past the metal detectors at the door with a gun made of flesh and blood. Ted helps her escape, and later, when he cuts the bullet out of her shoulder, he discovers it's not a bullet but a ... hmmm, this is interesting ... a human tooth. She decides Ted needs his own bio-port, and looks for a "country gas station.'' When she finds one (with a sign that says Country Gas Station) we assume they're inside the game, which is why she knows the station's name: She wrote it, and maybe also created its owner, named Gas (Willem Dafoe).