If you’ve seen John Woo’s FACE/OFF, made three years later, then you’ll have the gist of 1994’s THE MACHINE (LA MACHINE). Adapted from the novel Rene Belleto and written and directed by Francois Dupeyron (MONSIEUR IBRAHIM), it’s a seriously silly project that somehow managed to attract three of France’s top actors: Gerard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye and Claude Berri. Not that it matters.
Dr. Lacroix is a psychiatrist who’s invented a mind-sharing machine. He becomes obsessed with one of his patients, a compulsive murderer named Michel. For some reason Lacroix decides to use his machine to share minds with Michel, and their brains are switched. Michel, in Lacroix’s body, quickly gets the upper hand, getting Lacroix, stuck in Michel’s body, locked up. In his new guise Michel wreaks havoc with Lacroix’s wife and son—being apparent morons, the latter two don’t recognize that their husband/father has changed until it’s too late.
When it becomes apparent that Michel won’t be able to pretend to be Lacroix much longer, he drags the latter’s young son to the machine and switches bodies with him. The boy then returns home and cold-bloodedly plots the murder of his mother, who once again doesn’t recognize her son’s odd behavior until it’s too late.
This film suffers from bland and inert filmmaking, only really coming to life during a startlingly graphic murder sequence. Even the final body switch twist (given away by the opening of the film, depicting Lacroix’s son planning a murder) has no impact. The film’s biggest problem, however, is that the narrative is a ridiculous hodgepodge that makes little sense—among other things, the protagonist’s fascination with the killer (and why he’d want to meld minds with him) is never made clear.
None of the characters are well developed, and the actors do nothing to alleviate this problem. Gerard Depardieu and Didier Bourdon could have livened things up when playing each other following the brain switch (Depardieu at least is fully capable), but for some reason chose to act largely the same as they did before the swap. I’ll say this: their anemic performances perfectly fit the tone of the rest of this terminally unexciting project.
THE MACHINE (LA MACHINE)
France 2 Cinema/Hachette Premiere/M6 Films/Prima/Studio Babelsberg
Director: Francois Dupeyron
Producers: Patrick Bordier, Bernard Bouix, Rene Cleitman, Ingrid Windisch
Screenplay: Francois Dupeyron
Cinematography: Dietrich Lohmann
Editing: Noelle Boisson
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye, Didier Bourdon, Natalia Worner, Erwan Baynaud, Claude Berri, Marc Andreoni, Alain Azerot, Wilfred Benaiche, Christian Bujeau, Julie Depardieu