Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Leigh Whannell’s sophomore film as a director, Upgrade, is an impressive little genre exercise, a rousing mix of cyberpunk, gruesome body horror and ’70s exploitation. Whannell is perhaps best known for the Saw series, where he acted in a pair of installments and produced a handful of others. As a screenwriter, he delivered the first four chapters of the underrated Insidious series for Blumhouse Productions, where he’s clearly found a home alongside the unique sensibilities of head honcho Jason Blum. While Upgrade might not rank among the very best the studio has to offer (it’s not as intellectually rigorous as Get Out, nor is it as thematically complex as either Conjuring film), it isn’t short on spirit. As the summer movie season grows increasingly self-serious, Upgrade delivers goofy charm and style to boot. The story centers on Grey Trace (The Invitation’s Logan Marshall-Green), a who man who is, seemingly by design, as generic as his name. A blue collar guy’s guy, Grey’s working class characterization is made doubly clear by the setting: Upgrade takes place in a not-so-distant future society run completely by hyper-advanced artificial intelligence systems. Grey views these technological advancements with intense suspicion, which proves justified after a mishap with his self-driving car leads to a violent mugging that leaves his wife (Melanie Vallejo) dead and him fully paralyzed and contemplating suicide. That’s when the mysterious tech gazillionaire Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) gets involved. He gives Grey the title “upgrade” in the form of a microchip-sized brain implant that cures Grey’s paralysis and gives him an AI of his own, known as STEM. A (seemingly) unforeseen side effect: STEM also provides Grey with advanced cognitive capabilities and superhuman strength, just what he needs to track down his wife’s killers. With Upgrade, you could play the x-meets-y game all day – it’s Robocop-meets-Rolling Thunder, Death Wish-meets-Brainstorm – but the film is more than just a game of genre movie bingo. It takes the idea of character interplay and turns it on its head. Voiced by Australian actor Simon Maiden, STEM is an ideal straight man in addition to being a skilled investigator, and Whannell shapes the film like it’s a buddy-cop romp, only the buddies in question are a hapless Joe Schmoe and the unfeeling voice in his head. Marshall-Green displays a surprising prowess for physical comedy, reacting with shock and confusion after STEM first takes over his body to dispose a foe. His face remains bewildered even as he’s delivering severe physical punishment, and Whannell’s camerawork, which twists and pivots in lock step with the impressive fight choreography, speaks to influences as wide-ranging as Indonesian martial arts cinema, Emmanuel Lubezki and the Wachowskis. However pleasurable Upgrade’s surface may be, there isn’t much to peel back here. The story pivots on a last second twist that, while perhaps not entirely predictable, certainly isn’t all that surprising. Ultimately, the film has the same nihilistic technophobia as the Netflix series Black Mirror, but it doesn’t share the same sense of allegory or allusion. Instead, Upgrade veers toward the obvious and awkwardly legible. The Eron character, for example, is a clear (if comically exaggerated) reference to a similarly named real-life tech giant – you know, the one currently dating a popular Canadian indie-pop singer. But if the film’s single point can be distilled to simply “beware of artificial intelligence,” at least the film isn’t bogged down in pseudo-intellectualism or preachy sentiment. Instead, Whannell sticks to his strengths, and his film sticks to your chest, packing a wallop of stylistic bravado and popcorn-movie smarts.