Someone’s been watching “Pi.” With the grim black and white photography, slightly disheveled protagonist, explored thriller territory, talk of mathematical equations, and a search for secrets revealed by such equations, the influence of Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 debut are all over Richie Mitchell’s sci-fi-ish feature S.I.N. Theory. But based on this one effort, Mitchell is no Aronofsky. There’s no need to write him off entirely yet, but S.I.N. Theory is an amateurish effort damaged by a convenient handling of its core conceit and further stalled by a very stiff cast.
The story involves a bookish math professor named Michael (Jeremy Larter), who has been using his interns and the help of a mysterious hacker to covertly develop an algorithm capable of predicting anyone’s future. The problem is that he requires private data like credit and health records to get results, which opens up an ethical and legal can of worms that threatens Michael’s job and maybe even his life.
To Mitchell’s credit, he doles out the information in small packets, so there’s an air of mystery to the proceedings that seems somewhat promising. But as the narrative of S.I.N. Theory tightens, instead of exploring the concept of mathematical soothsaying in imaginative, intriguing ways, the writer/director travels down predictable paths and simply positions his limited cast so that they all intertwine quite mechanically.
Michael strikes up something of a relationship with adorably bespectacled student Evelyn (Allison Dawn Doiron), which ends up fueling much of the second and third act. Doiron is the only cast member who ever comes close to achieving naturalism and her scenes with Larter are fine enough, but anything more dramatic than average everyday babble stretches the limits of believability here. A couple of thugs (literally credited as Thug 1 and 2) are imposing and basically do what is required of them, which isn’t much. And Larter’s scenes with the University Dean character (Kevin Stonefield) are especially painful with their awkward exchanges and bland cutting style.
It’s tough to get past the poor acting here, since it’s so prevalent and further harmed by poor writing. Michael has a buddy named Sean (Richard Guppy), who shares a few scenes with our protagonist for no better reason than to let Michael vocalize his thoughts without having to say too many lines out loud to himself. Sean is a sounding board instead of a character and including him for such a lazy purpose just further chips away at Mitchell’s artistic credibility. Stuff like this is so obviously avoidable and so dumbly employed that it becomes difficult to find the positives in a little indie effort like this one.
At least Mitchell doesn’t shy away from technology, often showing online chats between Michael and his hacker as is and lingering on other computer screen shots as well. Since much of what Michael is up to involves working with a computer, it’s nice that Mitchell tries to convey the information in such a direct manner, not fearing the generally anti-cinematic quality that computer activities strangely have. And the idea of predicting the future with a computer program and some confidential information is at least an interesting one, even if the treatment of the idea is bland and brittle.
That’s about as far as the praise can go, though. The acting is tough to forgive and the writing is far too clumsy and basic to support the weighty idea it’s trying to wrestle with. S.I.N. Theory doesn’t even work on a simpler level as a standard thriller because, in addition to the bad acting, there is questionable editing at work here and only a few hints of decent cinematographic choices, leaving little room for suspense to grow.
Trying to insert sci-fi concepts into real life situations and questioning the ethical, emotional conundrum of peering too far behind the curtain of life’s mysteries remains an admirable pursuit, so good for Mitchell for at least making the attempt. But his future explorations are going to require more depth and a better sense of control from behind the camera, as well as more imagination, to really make an impact. Transforming his influences into something more personal and unique would be helpful, too. Otherwise he’s just thieving ingredients and making stale “Pi.”