The running man

Policeman finds himself a fugitive before committing a crime.


directed by Steven Spielberg with Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, and Max von Sydow opens June 21 at Meridian, Metro, Oak Tree, and others

IN THE FUTURE, circa 2054, everyone will have great hair. People will be thin and attractive. Traffic will be licked with a system of computer-controlled maglev vehicles—still bearing Lexus and other brand names—speeding within inches of one another in all planes of motion: up, down, and sideways. Excellent new drugs will be dispensed by convenient inhalers (no more needles!). Homes will respond to voice command. Computers will be cooler, smaller, and more powerful. Crime will be eliminated. Oh, and just one more thing: Tom Cruise will preside over a corps of jackbooted police-state thugs who pre-emptively arrest terrified citizens just because some tank-dwelling psychic freaks predict they’ll commit murder.

John Ashcroft would love it, of course, and Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) is probably smirking in his grave at the post- Sept. 11 release of Minority Report (based on his 1954 story). An exciting, noir-tinged futuristic wrong-man thriller, Report uses the traditional premise of a hero trying to prove his innocence (here under a 36-hour deadline), the twist being that the killing in question hasn’t yet occurred. How do the authorities know it’ll happen? Well, in Washington, D.C.’s Pre-Crime Department, run by John Anderton (Cruise), three clairvoyants (“Pre-Cogs”) can see murders unfold in advance. Anderton and his crew then have to “scrub” the images they download from the seers to ascertain the potential perp’s identity and whereabouts. (The Pre-Cogs are rather frustratingly imprecise in this regard, but they can hardly be expected to give street directions when they live like dolphins at Marineland.)

With no murders committed in the last six years, everyone feels smug, sanctimonious certainty about the program. “We’re more like clergy than cops,” boasts one officer, and Anderton is the high priest of “the temple,” where sinners are damned by paranormal lottery.

THE PROBLEM, Anderton later discovers, is that Pre-Cogs occasionally disagree. (Dissenting opinions, or “minority reports,” get tossed to maintain the perfect record.) Unfortunately, he doesn’t learn this until after the oracles cause a red wooden ball to roll from a lucite Rube Goldberg-like chute with his name on it (guilty!). He’s accused of shooting a man he’s never even seen, then becomes the object of a manhunt, pursued by his own team. Anderton must then reconsider a Stalinesque criminal justice apparatus in which the innocent are occasionally punished to preserve the infallibility of the system.

Once the chase begins, Spielberg does an expert job of depicting the paranoia and loss of privacy in a society cowed by omniscient surveillance cameras and retinal scanners (to say nothing of personalized advertising at the Gap, which is played for laughs). With its color-drained, scuzzed-up production design, Report aspires to the look of Ridley Scott’s dank Blade Runner and the satire of Paul Verhoeven’s venomous RoboCop, but the movie finally isn’t hard-minded enough to keep such company. There’s no sex and hardly any violence—as if those visceral human drives have been written out of our future script. More a man of action films than ideas, Spielberg is more interested in genre exercises and fractured families than in the political and philosophical conundrums Dick crams into his work.

Instead of pointedly indicting its protagonist—and, by extension, society—for relinquishing conscience and justice to a machine, Report mushily turns the vigorous Cruise into a victim. (This isn’t to fault his performance; Spielberg always values the situation over the character, and nobody acts well before a blue screen.) Just before Pre-Crime went online, we learn in flashback, Anderton’s adorable son was kidnapped, leading to his failed marriage and descent into drugs. Softening the psycho cop into bereaved parent is a typically mawkish Spielberg device, diminishing Dick’s cautionary warning about civil liberties and totalitarianism.

Report is Spielberg’s second successive foray into the future (after last summer’s inert A.I.), but it gives nothing away about the ending to say that he takes a far sunnier view of things to come than Dick or Kubrick. He’d rather redeem than condemn the future (whatever its fascist tendencies), since the toys and gadgets are so great. Humanity will prevail, and everyone gets a shiny new red Lexus. Oddly, for a sci-fi film, Report reassures more than it disturbs, couching the frightening in the familiar. No matter how far Spielberg travels into the future (or past), he’s still phoning home.