I'm sorry, but you can't promise "Office Space meets Battle Royale" and not deliver. To be fair, to compare any film to a merger of a comedy heavyweight and arguably the best socio-action flick ever is to court disaster, but the point is that The Belko Experiment teases lofty aspirations. It strives for nothing in the end, though, other than a barely watchable splatterfest that's good only for watching a recognizable cast of B-listers slice one another into shredder remnants.
If you were hoping for some kind of commentary on the cutthroat nature of workplace politics, well, this is not the movie for it. What made Battle Royale great was what it had to say about Japanese society in that particular moment in time, and I dare say the sight of Ron Livingston bashing the copy machine was more terrifying (and funny) than anything 'Belko' has to offer.
Directed by Greg McLean, who is best known for the Aussie horror Wolf Creek that Roger Ebert famously savaged, and penned by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, the film is a messy combination of what should be their best traits. McLean turns up the creep factor early on as a miscellaneous office building in the middle of Columbia suddenly has tighter armed security than the Pentagon. The bored office workers inside barely seem to notice until a God-like voice booms over the intercom that two people need to die in the next few minutes. When it doesn't happen, there are indeed bloody consequences. The next directive: kill 30 people in two hours or 60 will die. Chances of escape? Well, zero considering walls of metal harder than adamantium have sheathed the entire building.
From there the expected breakdown of social norms begins. The perfectly-cast Tony Goldwyn, always a great corporate schill or white collar scumbag, plays both as the COO of the facility. As a trained Special Forces officer he seems willing to go along with the murderous orders, while the good-natured Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) tries to look for a better way, one that keeps him and his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) alive. You get the usual array of workplace relationships and archetypess: friendly colleagues, bitter cubicle rivals, insecure middle-men, tech geeks, and ineffectual security guards. None shall be spared.
Considering the screenwriter we expect more twisted humor and commentary, but Gunn delivers little of either. He seems content to bring nothing but wanton blood-letting, with the extent of his quirk the occasional Spanish-language rendition of American pop songs that you might find on Star-Lord's playlist. The violence isn't even that impressive, though, and it grows repetitive quickly. The walls run slick with explosive gore, but mostly we see gunshots, a lot of them covered up by darkness or seen off-screen, and a stabbing or two. John C. McGinley, an Office Space alum who is always a prime candidate for a nasty death, gets exactly that in one of the film's few highlights. One of Gunn's clever twists positions a would-be savior in the background throughout, only to pull the rug out from under them (and us) in the blink of an eye. That got a rare roar of laughter from the crowd I saw the film with.
The Belko Experiment doesn't appear to be about anything when all is said and done, and it's made clear when everything just ends without a clearer explanation, just more violence. You'd think after 90 minutes of pointless murder they'd get that this 'Experiment' was a failure.
Rating: 2 out of 5