The queasiest notion at the heart of Gattaca (Columbia) is that our bodies betray us a thousand times a day, shedding flakes of skin and hair that each contain our DNA — a nimbus of presence — wherever we go. In the movie’s sterile near future, a woman can casually kiss a lover, have her lip swabbed at the corner gene-testing booth, and find out his breeding potential. And the police don’t dust for fingerprints — they vacuum the entire building.

By finding one eyelash that doesn’t match employee files at the Gattaca space agency, cops (Alan Arkin and Loren Dean) think they’ve discovered the murderer of Gattaca’s director. Really, they’ve stumbled upon Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), a ”God-child” (conceived the old-fashioned way) impersonating one of the genetic elite (Jude Law as a crippled, bitter toff) so he can realize his dream of space travel. It’s never specified what will happen to Vincent if he’s caught, but from all the spiffy doom floating in the air, it’ll probably look a lot like 1984‘s rat-cage helmet.

That’s not a coincidence. Gattaca‘s mournful pace puts it squarely in the tradition of Big Think sci-fi, especially films like George Lucas’ THX 1138, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (as Hawke’s love interest, Uma Thurman exudes some of the luminous sadness of Anna Karina). But after a while, flaws creep into the movie’s own double helix. A key character has a secret so obvious that even the script eventually stops looking the other way; worse, the unintentional laughs that arise from a climactic, macho … swimming contest ruin Gattaca‘s icy spell.

Still, the movie taps into populist fears about cloning in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence, and writer-director Andrew Niccol (whose next script is for Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show) is a stylist to watch. It bears remembering that after THX 1138, Lucas took a break from sci-fi and made a film called American Graffiti. B-

  • Movie