Review:  Convoluted ‘Radio Free Albemuth’ succumbs to dated sci-fi plot

“Radio Free Albemuth” is a sluggish, often cheesy sci-fi thriller based on the dystopian novel written by Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner,” “Minority Report”) in 1976 and posthumously published in 1985.

First-time writer-director John Alan Simon simply doesn’t have a strong enough grip on the movie’s narrative, pacing or performances to surmount the pitfalls of this ambitious, budget-conscious effort, which first appeared on the film festival circuit in 2010. To wit, Simon’s script adaptation is so laden with expository dialogue reeking of high-minded mumbo-jumbo it’s tough to take much that goes on too seriously.

Set circa 1985, the story finds a United States being run by fascist, paranoid, five-term president Richard Fremont (Scott Wilson). Meanwhile, Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe), a Berkeley record store clerk, starts to receive mysterious messages and visions in his sleep from an entity he names VALIS, short for Vast Active Living Intelligent System.

Inspired by VALIS, Nick moves his pregnant wife (Katheryn Winnick) to Los Angeles, where he begins working as a record company executive. It’s hard to say whose job is presented less convincingly here: Nick’s or that of his best friend named, yup, Philip K. Dick (Shea Whigham), an author of pulpy sci-fi novels who follows Nick down to L.A. (Philip is also saddled with lots of hole-patching narration.)

Soon, Nick and Philip are being followed by ominous governmental forces. This propels Nick to pair off with insightful new co-worker Sylvia (singer Alanis Morissette, of all people) to produce a song whose subliminal lyrics will help effect an end to Fremont’s totalitarian reign. It’s all as convoluted and dated as it may sound.


But when Sylvia explains that an egg has been laid in Nick’s head (“an alien egg!”), the proverbial shark is truly jumped. As for Albemuth, it’s a concocted star system from which life on Earth is said to have originated. Whatever.


“Radio Free Albemuth”

MPAA rating: R for language, drug use and brief violence.

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.