Atomica offers very little in the way of entertainment.
Atomica, the new science fiction thriller from director Dagen Merrill (Finding Harmony), is the one of the first films to be theatrically distributed by television network Syfy. It is set in nuclear-powered 2025 and begins as young technician Abby (played by Sarah Habel, of TV’s “Riverdale,” who resembles a young Teri Hatcher in both appearance and consistently exasperated expression) learns that the company she works for has lost contact with one of its facilities.
Abby ships off to the troubled location and is greeted by Robinson (Dominic Monaghan, playing an older, more manic version of his character from “Lost,” though with about half the effort), who is brandishing a golf club and glaring suspiciously. Several obviously placed coffee cups and a uniform covered in coffee stains hint that Robinson’s obsession with coffee might mean something later. Since Abby is there to fix the communications for the facility, she gets to work, which appears to involve holding a flashlight up to several broken flat screen televisions hanging in a sewer. Discovering that she needs power in order to get the flat screens working, she asks Robinson to show her to the Machine Room so that she can run a diagnostic scan. The Machine Room isn’t a room, but rather a hallway that leads to a shaft with a massive propeller, which suggests that at least one character will be chopped in half before Atomica ends. As Robinson marvels at the size of this propeller, Abby tells him that the real exciting equipment is in an area called Deep Burial but that no one goes there, as it requires an extremely high level of security clearance. Robinson informs her that his colleague Dr. Zek (Tom Sizemore), who is out doing field tests, frequently visits this Deep Burial area.
After some flashback/dream sequences and a gratuitous shower scene, we learn that Robinson has a drug problem and Abby has no family or friends outside of an estranged father and her dogs, Tesla and Jobs. Abby then does more sciencey things, though Atomica’s shoestring budget means she spends most of her time burning what looks like Legos with a crème brûlée torch while squatting in a drippy basement. Robinson then reveals that it was Zek who cut the wires and shut everything down before running out into the wild.
CGI gizmos and backdrops appear in many of these scenes, and it is a shame how bland and unimaginative they are. Everything is futuristic in a 1990s Sharper Image catalogue kind of way. These awful special effects are especially egregious considering that Syfy has showcased beautiful visual work on the cheap in a number of its television shows, including “Battlestar Galactica.”
Though the problems here are abundant, the most glaring issue with Atomica is how lazily it is thrown together. The script consists of a blend of random, clichéd science fiction terms and random, clichéd dramatic moments. Worse, the action seems unrehearsed. The actors stumble about as if they don’t know where they are going and they speak as if they’re delivering the lines together for the first time, with little in the way of eye contact or physical interaction with one another.
The film does finally gain some momentum as the mystery of what is lurking down in Deep Burial becomes more pressing. But then Sizemore appears as the missing Dr. Zek. His grizzled, tough-guy delivery is distinctly at odds with his nuclear scientist character, and the character’s appearance sends Atomica into a tailspin of poorly-executed twists.
Atomica offers very little in the way of entertainment. It’s poorly acted and directed and the worst offender – the script – is incredibly unimaginative, particularly for a science fiction film. As both television and film are going through a science fiction renaissance it is particularly unforgiveable for something as sloppy as Atomica to be made at the expense of better, unproduced scripts. It’s hard to imagine how or why Atomica was made and one hopes that next time Syfy will aim a bit higher as it tries to take its particular brand of entertainment to the big screen.