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Review: ‘Empathy, Inc.’ wastes its killer retro-tech set up and ‘Twilight Zone’ aspirations

‘Empathy, Inc.’
A scene from “Empathy, Inc.”
(Dark Star Pictures)

A killer concept falls frustratingly short of the finish line in “Empathy, Inc.,” a dark morality tale that ambitiously casts contemporary technology in a throwback visual setting.

Despite having lost his shirt investing in a failed Silicon Valley start-up, venture capitalist Joel (Zack Robidas) wastes little time in jumping into the next big thing — XVR — an extreme virtual reality experience that allows high-end clientele to inhabit the lives of the underprivileged.

While his actress wife, Jessica, isn’t so sure, Joel, who has personally donned the crude-looking helmet, manages to get his father-in-law (Fenton Lawless) to pour his life savings into the enterprise.

But Joel, who has found himself getting progressively sucked into the murky alternate reality, ultimately makes the discovery that there’s a sinister catch to the concept that proves to be less than “virtual.”

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In their second indie collaboration, director Yedidya Gorsetman and writer Mark Leidner (“Jammed”) have come up with a clever modern-day cautionary yarn and give a “Twilight Zone” sensibility to promising effect, complete with monochromatic, inky black-and-white visuals and more mannered, late ’50s, early ’60s acting styles.

Alas, Rod Serling would have intervened well before the telling turns ridiculously far-fetched in the third act, giving the viewer the unfortunate sensation of being transported into a broad, personality-swapping scenario that would have been more at home on an old “Three Stooges” episode, no goggles required.

‘Empathy, Inc.’
In black & white

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: In selected theaters; available Sept. 24 on VOD


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