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Movie review: 'Upgrade' packs sci-fi chills, action thrills

Logan Marshall-Green stars in future thrill ride about a man whose body is taken over by a computer

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Part "Black Mirror," part "Ex-Machina" and part "Hardcore Henry," "Upgrade" is a cuckoo science fiction horror pastiche that's smarter than it looks but disguises its ambition with low-grade, B-movie thrills. 

Logan Marshall-Green stars in 'Upgrade.'

Logan Marshall-Green -- squint and he looks like Tom Hardy -- is Grey Trace, a technology-wary man's man who lives in a not-too-distant, upgraded society where autonomous cars are the norm, not an anomaly. (He still prefers driving.) When Grey and his girlfriend are gunned down by thugs one night -- she dies, he's rendered paraplegic -- he vows revenge on the perpetrators. 

Grey is offered an experimental procedure from Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), a tech guru grooming the future of body-science technology. Eron fuses a computer chip to Grey's spine that offers him full mobility, except his movements are controlled by Stem (voiced by Simon Maiden in docile but quietly threatening HAL mode), an all-seeing computer program that takes over his life. There are complications, naturally. And it turns out having Siri (or Alexa, pick your poison) controlling your every movement isn't all it's cracked up to be. 

Writer-director Leigh Whannell ("Insidious: Chapter 3") knows the territory here well and frames "Upgrade" as a mix of high-minded sci-fi and action thrills, like "Gattaca" by way of "Crank." The trick in movies like these is to stay a step or two ahead of the audience, which knows the twists are coming, and Whannell manages to pull off the stunt with style. Which is also how he pulls off a scene that features a weaponized sneeze, surely the first of its kind and a sign of things to come from a director who is still just testing the waters.

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Rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language

Running time: 95 minutes