Film review: The ponderous ‘Zero Theorem’ suffers from a poor central performance

Christoph Waltz as a listless guy speaking almost entirely in the first-person plural. Yeah, sounds entertaining to us, too.

Two and a half stars

The Zero Theorem Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Rated R. Available on Video on Demand.

The Zero Theorem, director Terry Gilliam’s first science-fiction film since 1995’s Twelve Monkeys, starts out by evoking the kaleidoscopic satire of Gilliam’s 1985 classic Brazil, but it soon proves to be less satirical and less imaginative. Christoph Waltz stars as computer programmer Qohen Leth, who works for a monolithic corporation called Mancom, doing what he refers to as “crunching entities.” After he’s assigned to work on the Zero Theorem, a mathematical formula that proves life is meaningless, Qohen holes up in his home, a cavernous converted cathedral, and the movie becomes as insular and fussy as its main character.

The colorful visual assault of Qohen’s corporate-controlled future quickly gives way to the drab, monochromatic interior of his filthy home. Gilliam has recruited a few ringers to show up for cameos (including Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare), but most of the movie relies on Waltz, who gives a listless performance as a listless man. Speaking almost entirely in the first-person plural, Qohen is an off-putting protagonist, and his quest to understand and/or disprove the Zero Theorem is a jumble of pseudo-philosophical nonsense. Gilliam can often do wonders with pseudo-philosophical nonsense, but this time his flair for the ridiculous can’t overcome the flat, ponderous story.

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