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Xchange
(2001)

Director: Allan Moyle  
Cast:
Stephen Baldwin, Pascale Bussieres, Kim Coates, Kyle MacLachlan


As you might have guessed sometime down the road, because I have a great interest in movies, I try my best to keep up with the latest trends when it comes to that subject. I research movies that are released to theaters, and I keep up with the trends in the DVD market. When it comes to movies, I certainly know a lot. That is not always so when it comes to other subjects. For example, there is the subject of latest technological trends. It wasn't always this way. When I was a child growing up, I was at the top of my game when it came to newly introduced technology of the time. For example, there were personal computers of the time. I remember the first time I was introduced to such a computer, back when I was in the third grade. I immediately fell in love with the Apple II computer, and from that point up to (and beyond) graduation from high school nine years later, you can bet that spent countless hours using the computer from video games to writing school reports. I had to laugh when I saw the "Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips" segments on TV's Schoolhouse Rock, which were an attempt to show kids that computers were not scary. Apparently, the adults who made those segments didn't realize that the vast majority of kids take to computers like a hungry dog to a big bowl of kibble. Another new bit of technology that I immediately took to as a kid was when our family got our first VCR. It didn't take me long at all to figure out how to program it and record all the television programs I wanted. It's a good thing I did, because my poor old parents could never figure out how to program the darn thing, and they were always asking me to program it so they could have recorded the programs they wanted.

In fairness to my parents, a number of years later when they got a new VCR with more user-friendly programming, they figured out how to program it on their own and no longer needed my services in that area. This proves that the saying having to do with an old dog not being able to learn new tricks is not always true. Neverless, at the same time I have learned that there are definitely times that new technology can sure seem to be a young man's game. For instance, despite widescreen televisions and Blu-Ray players being available and affordable for years, it took me an incredible long time to finally break down and buy one of each. If I had been a kid, I wouldn't have hesitated, but as an adult... well, new technology now just seems scary to me. When I finally did buy a widescreen television and Blu-Ray player, I can remember leafing through the instruction books and feeling overwhelmed. I can't honestly remember how I did figure out to hook everything up properly and get everything working. Maybe I still had a little youth left in my adult self. It might also explain how I managed to upgrade my computer system a few years earlier. I was still stuck on Windows 2000 more than nine years after it was first introduced, and I was still using dial-up for my Internet access. But the prospect of change seemed scary to me, and I stuck with my old ways. In fact, the only thing that got me to buy a new computer and high speed Internet was the fact that my computer was dying. I can remember the day when I hooked my computer up and struggled to connect to the Internet with my new connection, and I can't honestly figure out how I was able to get everything working. There was no doubt about it - I had become the adults I had observed in my youth who were mystified by any kind of new technology.

Believe it or not, I still don't have a cell phone or an iPod. I can't help but wonder about the new kind of technology that will inevitably be introduced in the decades to come. There is a great chance that I will avoid it as much as possible, and only embrace it if I have no other choice. Maybe XchangeI would get into a flying car... but I would absolutely not subject myself to transporters a la Star Trek. However, while I may avoid a lot of new technology that's in real life now and what may come later, I do enjoy watching fictional films that deal with a level of technology that has yet to exist. I like seeing imagination at work, and it also makes me think about what I would do if the technology actually existed in my world. That's one reason why I was intrigued by the movie Xchange when I found it in a used DVD store, since it concerns itself with a future world with a kind of technology that very well could happen. Though another reason was that the title of the movie began with an "x", and I would finally have at least one movie in my alphabetical index starting with each letter of the alphabet. As I said earlier, the setting of Xchange is in the future, long enough in the future that there now exists technology that we can only dream of in this present day. One new piece of technology is the ability to exchange human minds with different bodies, and this technology is exploited by customers for many different reasons, such as instantly traveling to one location to another. One day, a New Yorker by the name of Stuart Toffel (Coates, Lethal Tender) finds he has to use the technology for the first time. Earlier at another location, the CEO of his company was assassinated, and Stuart must immediately go to San Francisco to attend a press conference his company is holding to introduce a new CEO. Stuart goes to the New York Xchange headquarters - the company that runs the technology - and is instantly transported to San Francisco where he now has a new body of a S.F. resident (MacLachlan, The Hidden). After the press conference, Stuart returns to the San Francisco Xchange headquarters to go back to New York and get his own body back, but not only discovers that his own body is missing, the body he is now inhabiting was actually stolen by the person now inhabiting his original body! The Xchange staff force Stuart to remain where he is, but the resourceful Stuart decides to investigate for himself. Stuart transports his mind into a clone (Baldwin, Bio-Dome) that belongs to Xchange - a body that only has the lifespan of just a few days - and escapes. But it doesn't take long for him to discover that recovering his body will prove even harder than he thought.

Over the years, I have seen a number of movies taking place in the future, and with a lot of them I find have the same particular nitpick that irks me in the back of my mind even if I find the rest of the movie enjoyable. Not so much with movies taking place very far in the future, but with futuristic tales taking place a relatively short time from the time when the movie was made. That problem is that the level of technology on display is a gigantic leap from the level of technology when the movie was made, as well as that aspects of the culture - clothing, furniture, cars, etc. - seem radically different as well. Just think about what life was like thirty years ago. Yes, there have been some radical leaps in technology, but a lot of life back then was pretty much like what it is now. So you can imagine how happy I was to find that the near-future world found in Xchange is not that much of a radical leap from how life is today. In this world, people still drive gas-powered vehicles, the television sets don't appear any different from the widescreen televisions in stores today, and the styles of clothing are a perfect fit with what is worn today. Yes, there is some new technology on display in this world, but the technology we get to see comes across as surprisingly plausible. Stuart's home has a talking computerized butler, but it's not a robot - just a small talking device attached to the wall that can only do so much. The villains in the movie use for their assassinations something not that far removed from one of those drones the U.S. army nowadays uses to track down and fire missiles at terrorists. An electric car seen in passing is designed in a manner that doesn't look that radically different from the gas-powered vehicles it shares the roads with. This is a world that's technologically advanced in a way that you will feel could very well happen in our future.

The particular technologies that the movie centers on - mind transfers and clones - come across as very plausible as well. It's not just with the facts that there have been major advances in computer technology and cloning animals in recent years, but it also because of the attitude the movie has towards such examples of technology. People are shown to exploit this technology for their own selfish interests, like one man who switches bodies with his personal trainer for a few hours so that his trainer can exercise his body and he doesn't have to tire himself out. I could see this happening in real life. Christopher Pellham's screenplay deeply explores what advantages as well as problems could come up with the technology proposed here. The man that steals Stuart's body turns out to be a corporate terrorist who masquerades as Stuart so he can eventually execute a mass murder - something that very well could happen in real life. Later in the movie, when Stuart gets face to face with man in his body, he finds he can't do anything. He certainly can't shoot the man, because then his original body would die and he would be really screwed. In subsequent struggles to get his body back, Stuart allows his body to be mutilated in several ways, seemingly reasoning that he is in a clone body and not his own. Pellham's screenplay is not perfect; there are a few plot groaners, like when Stuart knocks out some fake cops right before having to knock out some real cops, afterwards Stuart immediately leaves the area instead of staying to show the unconscious fake cops to the real cops when they wake up. But for the most part, Pellham keeps this world, its characters, and the various things that these characters end up doing looking surprisingly plausible. But Pellham is also careful to keep the story coherent. Reading about Xchange before watching it, the movie sure sounded very confusing to me due to all of the body switches and the characters' various schemes. But the movie turns out to be very easy to follow, with the movie not only unfolding one piece at a time, but at a pace that gives the audience enough time to properly absorb what happens and piece it together with what they previously saw.

Despite the clever and smart screenplay, Xchange could still have been ruined with the wrong person acting as its director. Fortunately, director Allan Moyle (who earlier wrote and directed Pump Up The Volume) seems to know how for the most part that the movie should play out. His direction is not perfect. For one thing, there are several scenes involving nudity (including a couple of brief but surprisingly explicit sex sequences) that to me didn't feel like they belonged in such a cerebral movie. I'm sure a lot of B movie fans would disagree with me about that, but I think they would agree with my next criticism, that the outdoor sequences are almost all shot tightly in very anonymous locations that don't feel like either San Francisco or New York City despite the use of stock footage of cityscape shots. (Yeah, you guessed it - Xchange is a Canadian movie.) But for the most part, Moyle gets the job done despite working with what couldn't have been a large budget. Moyle doesn't go for an epic feel - it's only around the halfway point that the movie has its first true action sequence, for one thing - but instead works on a large number of small but effective touches. For example, take the character of Stuart. He is played by three different actors in the movie, but Moyle makes it believable that it's the same character inside these bodies by having Coates, MacLachlan, and Baldwin act with a uniform tone. Also, in the scenes when Coates is playing the character who stole Stuart's body, Coates acts differently from the way he played Stuart at the beginning of the movie. It's touches like that in Xchange that make this movie smarter and more engaging than your typical direct-to-DVD thriller. If you are looking for mindless and gratuitous action and eye candy, you better look elsewhere. But if you want a movie that will entertain you while not insulting your intelligence, it is well worth a look.

(Posted January 10, 2015)

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See also: Robot Jox, Terminal Justice, T-Force

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