An accidental entertainment, "Equilibrium" is a science-fiction pastiche so lacking in originality that if you stripped away its inspirations there would be precious little left. Among the referent titles that flipped up on my mental Rolodex as I watched this dystopic vision struggle to take hold were "Fahrenheit 451," "Dark City," "Blade Runner," "Children of the Damned," "Soylent Green," "1984," various Philip K. Dick freakouts and John Woo adventures and, of course, "The Matrix." Not a bad list as far as influences go, save for the fact that these are the sort of touchstones that tend to make bad imitations only look worse.

In the future world of Librium, elite military officer John Preston (Christian Bale) enforces the government-mandated no-feel policy, which has eradicated the disease of "human emotion." Those citizens dubbed "sense offenders," who don't take their daily dosage of Prozium while indulging in soul-stirring no-no's such as music and chintz wallpaper, are summarily processed into nonexistence. True to formula, once Preston, the most elite of military elites, skips his meds, he begins the inexorable slide toward feeling -- first he starts worrying about his kids, then a stray puppy and, increasingly and most dangerously, a sense offender (Emily Watson) slated for execution.

Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, who previously directed something called "One Tough Bastard" and had a hand in the screenplays for "Sphere" and "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Equilibrium" unfolds in familiar if watchable fashion for its first hour. Bale, looking a lot like his rampaging automaton in "American Psycho," moves through the smoke and mirrors, twirling his guns and snapping his overcoat without once cracking a smile. Actor Taye Diggs enters soon after Sean Bean exits, as does William Fichtner. Trouble brews, but nothing much happens until a climactic fight scene so risible it summoned up two final referents, Austin Powers and the Three Stooges, twinned inspirations that threw off not just the equilibrium of the film but that of this reviewer.

'Equilibrium.' MPAA rating: R for violence. 1 hour, 47 minutes. In general release.

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