‘Cypher’ may be direct-to-DVD, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad

Jeremy Northam in 'Cypher'
Jeremy Northam in ‘Cypher’

I like bad sci-fi. Low budget, direct-to-video sci-fi is like eating a chocolate bar — you know it’s bad for you, but it’s so sweet you forget that it’s damaging your stomach and rotting your teeth. But every once in a while you manage to stumble across a direct-to-video sci-fi flick that isn’t that bad.

That’s Cypher. It’s not great, but its entertaining and features some fun science fiction thrills.

Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam) is a mild-mannered guy applying as a freelance spy for a tech company. His assignments are simple — attend conferences throughout the country and record the meetings and seminars. He’s given a secret identity, and soon becomes entranced by his new job, so much so that his marriage falls apart as he flies all over the country from one meeting to another.

Things become complicated, however, when he is approached by a mysterious woman who tells him to take special medication if he wants to save his life. He soon learns that the very tech company he has been working for is trying to brainwash him, and he must make them think they succeeded if he wants to survive.

Sullivan then finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, and he doesn’t know who to trust — even himself.

Normally Northam plays darker roles. At least, I remember him from Sandra Bullock’s thriller, The Net. But here he’s somewhat comedic, at least at the beginning. And he’s actually quite likeable, which really surprised me. As things get dark and he discovers what the evil high tech company has been doing to him, he slips into the more dramatic moments well. There isn’t much to say about Lucy Liu, as she really does very little. The movie belongs to Northam, and he really does carry it well.

One of Cypher’s best scenes is when Sullivan attends a conference. During the meeting, the attendees are all drugged while special devices are attached to their heads. Sullivan is the only one not drugged, but has to fake it as doctors examine him and put on the devices. There are other similar good moments throughout the film, which helps elevate this direct-to-video movie.

That’s not to say the movie is perfect. It drags a bit at times, and some of the visuals are a little distracting. Yet its story remains fun, with plenty of twists and turns to make the ride worth the hour and a half. Unfortunately, the DVD has no special features, which isn’t unexpected but proves disappointing because the movie isn’t half bad.

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