‘Upgrade’ delivers delightful shlock


If you’re going to make a B-movie the least you can do is make it fun. Thank goodness “Upgrade” does exactly that.

In a near-future setting, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a mechanic for classic automobiles with a distaste for the hyper-technological time he lives in. After repairing a car for a very wealthy tech magnate named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), he returns the vehicle with his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) in tow to introduce her to the eccentric genius. On the ride back, Asha’s automated vehicle is hacked and they crash. A group of masked hit-men kills Asha and uses a tool to paralyze Grey from the neck down. With everything taken from him, Grey is approached by Eron who provides him with an opportunity. Eron can place an experimental device known as STEM into Grey, which will help him regain his ability to operate his limbs, but he can never tell anyone about it. After going through the procedure, Grey is starting to hear voices from STEM (the soft-spoken voice of Simon Maiden) and the system helps him not only to move, but to find the men who killed his wife.

“Upgrade” is a vastly silly movie. Yet it never tries to be something it isn’t. Some of the worst movies on the market are bad B-movies that think they are worthy of being something more. “Upgrade” never thinks it’s more than a fun vehicle for revenge, action and scares. Make no mistake, “Upgrade” is not a full-blown horror movie. But, in a way, its concepts do tend to conjure some rather frightening hypotheticals. “Upgrade” is one part sci-fi revenge thriller, similar to the premise of “Six Million Dollar Man,” and another part existential terror about our increasingly technological world, a la “Black Mirror.” It’s a story that, despite its meandering start and truly goofy moments (an entire segment focused on hacking STEM takes place in a warehouse with a nameless and surprisingly genderless hacker who is surrounded by gesticulating and twitching VR addicts), really does work. Especially considering that most of the film’s tension derives from the fact that the morally centered Grey, who really does want revenge but is averse to killing, is diametrically opposed to the STEM system within him that operates on cold, calculated logic and its directive of protecting Grey at all costs. There’s also plenty of tension surrounding Grey attempts to keep his ability to walk hidden from the people around him, particularly Grey’s attempts at avoiding Detective Cortez (the talented Betty Gabriel) who is investigating his case as she begins to draw lines together between his individual appearances at crime scenes.

“Upgrade” never does anything spectacular with its storytelling, but for the most part it does a really serviceable job. This is mainly thanks to the actors. Logan Marshall-Green is brimming with charisma as the protagonist. His performance as Grey works by being both terrified at STEM’s abilities and also enjoying his regained strength. His banter while fighting is genuinely funny and reminiscent of Spider-Man or Deadpool in a sense. Betty Gabriel also excels as a no-nonsense detective who is both suspicious of Grey and very sympathetic toward his situation. As for the rest of the cast, Simon Maiden’s relaxed, robotic voice as STEM has a both eerie and frightening, but also calming, sound to it. Melanie Vallejo exudes charm and sweet savoir faire, especially compared to her blunt and bone-headed husband. Sadly, she’s fridged in the film’s first 15 minutes: both disappointing from an industry and storytelling perspective, as well as preventing viewers from seeing what a full performance from her in this role would have looked like. Gilbertson is really the weak link. His neurotic, awkward tech guy feels like every single bad interpretation of the archetype, and he sadly doesn’t bring enough to the table, or is perhaps just overacting the part. It is a B-movie, so chewing the scenery is appropriate to an extent, but Gilbertson chomps on it like an overcooked steak.

The film also features brilliant action and fight choreography, which is the best part of the film. The camera moves with the action in a really interesting way, while Marshall-Green gives an awesome physical performance, as his body seems completely controlled by the system now piloting his body. Punches and blocks are done with computerized efficiency as Marshall-Green calls out in stupefied shock at his new abilities. It looks totally unrealistic, but its fit within the film’s rules and Marshall-Green’s hilarious and truly interesting performance make it a blast.

“Upgrade” is not a great movie by any means. It is, however, better than a silly B-movie with this premise has any right to be. It drips with energy and style and houses some really great performances. The script and dialogue is cheesy and occasionally overly dramatic and tonally odd, but these are all just things that one accepts when a B-movie presents itself. “Upgrade” is a surprise, and a welcome one at that.

Rating: 3/5