Within the hurtling, slapdash fanciful motion thriller “Challenge Energy,” individuals get excessive by swallowing a pill that appears like a cross between an outdated Contact cold-relief capsule and a tiny mild bulb. The underside half of the tablet is darkish and ridged, the highest half is a brilliant orange Tesla power discipline. The drug impacts totally different takers in other ways — or possibly it simply is determined by which piece of visual-effects flimflam the filmmakers really feel like unleashing at any given second.
Early on, a drug taker catches hearth, like Johnny Storm of the Implausible 4, solely in this case he’s actually on hearth, his physique became a strolling char, as if he have been one of many X-Males immolating himself. (On the climax, he erupts like John Cassavetes on the finish of “The Fury.”) One other dude’s physique adjustments shade and turns translucent as he runs actually, actually quick (45 miles per hour in accordance with a breathless newspaper headline — which by my estimate form of makes him the $2 Million Man). A girl’s limbs flip to ice, like one thing out of “Frozen” (a joke the film makes), and a man bulges out just like the Hulk; characters additionally purchase the flexibility to repel bullets. However the results of the drug solely final for 5 minutes, and although it’s stated to confer extraordinary “energy” (a phrase the film makes use of about 10,000 occasions, as if that made it extra highly effective), getting excessive in this fashion doesn’t look all that a lot enjoyable.
“Challenge Energy” seems like a part of a new pattern in Netflix films, or possibly a new style: a movie that isn’t a conventional superhero film — it’s extra of a jacked-up avenue thriller — however is stuffed with touches that may remind you of superhero films, so at sure factors it sort of counts. (Because you’re sitting at house, scarfing leisure on the small display, there’s an impulse to say, “Test this out! It’s adequate!”) The Netflix smash “The Previous Guard” actually was a superhero film. In “Challenge Energy,” although, we’re not requested to root for these hungry-for-omnipotence souls who’re popping capsules; they’re random human guinea pigs. We’re rooting for Artwork, a.okay.a. the Main (Jamie Foxx), a former navy officer who’s on an underworld collision course to be taught who’s distributing the drug, in order that he can squelch it at its supply. He groups up with Robin (Dominique Fishback), a high-school hellion who’s been promoting the drug on the facet, they usually change into uneasy allies in a race to see what “energy” actually means.
“Challenge Energy” has propulsion, little detonations of visible magic, the resonant setting of a nonetheless determined New Orleans, and a higher solid than a film like this one tends to have. But watching it, you might end up conscious of how patched collectively the entire thing is. The movie’s administrators, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who made the 2011 embellished documentary “Catfish” after which went on to direct two “Paranormal Exercise” sequels), need to provide you with a buzz. Every time the drug will get popped, there are montages of dilating eyeballs and triggered synapses that crudely mimic those in “Requiem for a Dream,” and the entire this drug will make you wonderful! idea seems like a raise from “Limitless,” the terrific 2011 dramatic thriller that established Bradley Cooper as an actor who might do greater than strut by a “Hangover” film. “Limitless” was about a drug that was pure mind sweet — one that allow you to faucet the fabled different 80 % of your mind, and turned Cooper’s character into a glittery-eyed schmoozer genius — and the antic enjoyable of it was that the viewers shared in the excessive.
In “Challenge Energy,” we’re exterior the drug expertise, however the actual clue to this downbeat flashy journey’s fairly slovenly soul is that it turns into a thriller about a conspiracy that’s grandiose but naggingly summary. The drug is a part of a grasp plan to regulate individuals: to remove their energy by giving them a false sense of energy. That appears like a tasty theme, however the script, by Mattson Tomlin, is a threadbare piece of labor that makes you lengthy for the sinister specificity and rooted hazard of a good drug drama. “Challenge Energy” is mainly an overblown sketchbook of a film with showcase results.
And but…each watchable however in the end simply okay Netflix potboiler ought to have an actor as impressed as Jamie Foxx at its middle. Right here’s a severe query: Has Foxx ever phoned it in? (I’d say no.) In “Challenge Energy,” he’s taking part in a misplaced soldier who has private causes for his campaign, and Foxx dramatizes that dedication with a cool, wounded, reflective, moment-to-moment depth that by no means wavers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a cop who feels it’s his mandate to take the drug, since all of the foes he’s preventing are on it, begins off by doing a bizarrely overstated robotic macho-man factor, as if this have been his impersonation of a dangerous Keanu Reeves efficiency. However he settles into a groove and turns into a stalwart presence. And Dominique Fishback, so very good in “The Hate U Give,” proves once more that she has the proper stuff. Her Robin presents an genuine weave of trauma and angle, and he or she’s a free-style rapper — which Fishback nails, delivering her rhymes (which have been written by Chika) with a do-or-die smolder.
The variety of casting, which has change into a Netflix hallmark, lends the movie’s conspiracy — no less than, in principle — a recent dimension of social fervor, calling up overtones of the 1932 Tuskegee Experiment, and the widespread notion that the medicine that poured into America’s inside cities in the late ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s did so with a tacit diploma of presidency approval. But that doesn’t absolve the film of the necessity to fill in the logistics of the conspiracy in a compelling approach. Like different current Netflix motion movies (“Extraction” and, sure, “The Previous Guard”), “Challenge Energy” provides you the feeling that it’s drawing on so many a long time’ price of pulp clichés that the film can scarcely hassle to faux it’s something however a remix.