Code 46, the versatile Michael Winterbottom’s stylish, if precious, essay in social sci-fi, is all about reproductive regulation in a hyper-regulated world. The title refers to the post-clone sex crime of getting intimate with a genetic double.
Despite this concern for fruitful recombination, there’s nothing mysterious about the movie’s antecedents. A noirish romance, bathed in new age trance music and trippy golden light, Code 46 feels like Blade Runner on meds. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script is mildly Philip K. Dick in its paranoia and invented slang; Winterbottom’s mise-en-scène is markedly Wong Kar-wai in its elegiac voice-over and slo-mo dreaminess. What provides a perverse frisson is the anti-erotic chemistry of the movie’s miscast doomed couple, Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton.
A professional psychic, Robbins traverses the empty superhighways and bitter earth-toned earth of mega “Shanghai” to investigate a security lapse at the Sphinx insurance agency. Morton is Robbins’s quarry—she’s stealing ID documents known as “papelles”—but, without his understanding why, he covers for her. Back at her pad, their big, nuzzling close-ups consecrate the inexplicable bond. The dyspeptic, droning Robbins towers over the chunky Morton, and yet Winterbottom is alert to a doughy resemblance between the two—a kinship that will ultimately become the crux of the movie.
Late in the day, Code 46 bursts its chemical chains to become a convincingly irrational love story as Robbins and Morton flee to the poverty and chaos of a vaguely Arabian outland settlement. Her mind is willing but her body is “scared” of him. In the most authentic scene, he tenderly chains her to the fleabag bed—it’s a metaphor for the mutual discomfort the actors seem to feel with the scenario.