Somewhere between our best intentions (to rent The Constant Gardener, no less) and the new-release wall at Lost Weekend, we plunged into the vortex of Edison Force. The pull of Justin Timberlake’s movie-star debut -- sundry cameos don’t count, including that worth-reconsidering turn as a flaming make-up artist in the will-Lance-Bass-get-the-girl comedy On the Line -- was stronger than the Death Star’s tractor beam. Despite debuting at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, and boasting a somewhat prestigious cast (besides JT, you get Morgan Freeman, LL Cool J, Dylan McDermott, Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo, and an oddly coiffed Kevin Spacey), Edison Force went straight to video. And oh, we were ever about to find out why.
Auspiciously, the disc kicked off with a single preview, for Steven Seagal’s Shadow Man (not to be confused with The Glimmer Man, an unmitigated Seagal classic). No trust! No deals! No mercy! We were totally primed for gut-busting action. And then the movie started.
Writer-director David J. Burke, an executive producer on Law and Order: SVU, opens Edison Force with a ponderous voice-over. But it ain’t Timberlake’s drawl we get -- it’s LL Cool J, who solemnly informs us that life is not what think it is. In fact, “Reality’s a motherfucker.” Surreal, dreamy clouds skitter in artsy-fartsy time-lapse across the Toronto skyline. Ooh, we wondered, is this gonna be like The Matrix?
Sadly, Edison Force is nothing so original, nor even a rip-off of something so original. See, there’s this elite force of cops so secretive their acronym is F.R.A.T. (we never did figure out what it stands for); apparently, they’re so above the law (despite the film's tagline, "No One Is Above The Law ...") they can engage in broad-daylight machine gun shoot-outs and nobody says jack shit. Into this 24/7 bro-down tumbles a certain fresh-faced investigative reporter (Timberlake), who decides it’s time for an anti-corruption expose, in large part because chicks dig guys who write anti-corruption exposes. The dirty cops are played by a wildly gesticulating McDermott and a conflicted LL Cool J (standout scene: LL’s character is wracked -- wracked -- by guilty flashbacks as he vigorously works out his famed pectorals). Timberlake’s editor at “the Jewish handout” where he works is, of course, Freeman, who’s given to dancing to Nuggets-style rock in his bathrobe and uttering truisims like “You’re doing this for pussy!” and “Ya think you can swim until you jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. Then it’s, oh shit, where are my water wings?” Also, he has a Pulitzer.
Spacey and Elwes drift in for a few scenes to add a little more exposition to a story that’s so overloaded it also enfolds a marriage proposal, a life-threatening blood disease, a “doin’ hardcore research all journalistic-like” montage, a prison shanking, a corporation that’s turning the city into a “covert fascist state,” Irish step dancers, and the most marginalized female characters in recent memory. (Without a Trace’s Roslyn Sanchez, who plays LL’s beloved, has maybe two lines.) All of these elements are woven together with self-consciously flashy editing. For one mercifully brief instant, Burke indulges his multi-threaded storyline with an actual split-screen.
A movie like this can only end with a voice-over, the laziest way to tie up loose ends and let us know what lesson, exactly, Edison Force was trying to shake free from the tree of knowledge. Despite a pretty decent gory finale that includes our favorite stunt -- oh yeah, GUY ON FIRE!!! -- we’ll save you the trouble of having to actually watch the film and just tell you: “Sometimes the most important questions are the ones you don’t ask.”
However, questions we must ask do remain. For instance, what casting genius thought Justin “Rock Your Body” Timberlake would make a believable journalist? Even after the mugging scene that gives him a puffy eye socket for most of the film, he’s never as convincing as he was dancing like a marionette in the “Bye Bye Bye” video, or declaring Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction a total, unplanned accident. Also, did we really need to know that LL Cool J was so Method he registered under his character’s name for his hotel stay during filming, as the Edison Force DVD extras assure us? Yeah, that’s right -- we watched the extras. All of them. Even the Hollow Man 2 trailer (Christian Slater, we hardly knew ye). At the end of the evening, we had to agree: reality, especially the very real fact that we’d just spent two hours watching Edison Force, was truly a motherfucker.
“Suffice to say, to the people he hunted for us, he was known as the Glimmer Man. There'd be nothing but jungle, then a glimmer ... then you'd be dead!”