"Cloud Atlas" is a hokey and enthralling sci-fi kaleidoscope. Adapted from the novel by David Mitchell, it tells six stories over the course of nearly three hours, and most of them would come off as fairly conventional on their own. But when you slice them up, swirl them around, and hold them up to the light, the design of what you’re seeing is hypnotic, and it wires you into the film.
Co-directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, who haven’t made a good movie since "The Matrix," along with Tom Tykwer, the one-hit art-house wonder who made "Run Lola Run," "Cloud Atlas" is certainly out to be a visionary mindbender. But it’s really an enjoyable Hollywood contraption, with actors like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant cast in multiple roles as if they were playing a game of dress-up.
Each story writes its own rules and unfolds in its own madly detailed, self-contained world. A post-apocalyptic episode in which Hanks, as a forest goatherd, agrees to be the guide for a searcher who looks like she stepped out of "Star Trek," draws you in through its odd, slangy language.
A political tale set in 1973 roots the movie in a far-from-conventionally liberal idea: that the possibilities for nuclear power and an energy-independent America, were killed off by the oil companies.
A fascist-future parable, set in a "Blade Runner" version of Seoul, Korea, offers a mesmerizingly ominous vision of an all-synthetic existence.
The movie’s "big idea" is to wake us up to the ways we’re all linked through time. The dream of one "Matrix"-style hero passes to the next, finally erupting in revolution.
"Cloud Atlas" is a channel-zapper movie. At times, it’s like a gonzo miniseries that seems to be cramming the entire history of Hollywood genre films into one multi-tentacled parable of freedom and authoritarian control. You’ll catch echoes of a hundred other pop touchstones, from "Roots" to Guy Ritchie films to "Soylent Green."
I would never call "Cloud Atlas" profound -- it’s more like a pulpy, middlebrow head-trip -- but the hook of the movie is that the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer so clearly meant everything they put in it.