Poor Jim Sturgess needs a hug. In the sci-fi love story “Upside Down,” he hurls such passionate, wide-eyed sincerity into his charming character Adam that one can’t help but root for him—not to land his dream girl Eden (Kirsten Dunst), but to escape this pitiful cinematic fiasco.
This special effects-packed space opera starts out promising but complicated. In an alternative reality, two Earths orbit very closely around each other, pulled by opposite gravitational forces. Top Earth is a wealthy metropolis that looks like a bustling Tomorrowland concocted by Apple’s most hyperactive designers. It parasitically feeds off the resources of Bottom Earth, a decayed mishmash of every 20th-century, pre-1970s decade crammed into a destroyed post-war Berlin. The citizens of either world are forbidden to visit the other. The set up for this obvious rich/poor, past/future social commentary entices with sheer whimsical hutzpah.
Writer-director Juan Solanas detrimentally focuses on a Romeo and Juliet love story—a bad choice for science fiction, a genre better suited to dystopian commentary. Sturgess, from the dregs of Bottom Earth, is madly in love with the ritzy, Top World Dunst, and concocts a plan to visit her. Once we realize the characters are named Adam and Eden (“Eve” would be way too obvious), the film predictably nosedives into ridiculously clichéd mediocrity about creating a new world order.
But Sturgess’ intense lovability survives the plot’s many far-fetched suspensions of disbelief. God bless the actor who sticks to his craft and dedicates his entire soul to his role, despite the chaos he’s trapped in. He brings such meaty belief that when the screenplay forces his character into yet another preposterous situation, we nonetheless cheer him along.
Dunst is required to just be giggly and react as if charmed by Sturgess’ kookiness. Perhaps she’s not acting at all—the boy’s charisma, even while looking like a sweaty meth-head with the shakes, should be packaged and sold.
Credit must be given to spectacularly sumptuous art direction and special effects that bring confident credence to an alternative set of physics: Humans and materials are pulled by the gravitational force of their native land. When Bottom Sturgess travels to visit the object of his affection in Top World, he will be automatically pulled back through the atmosphere into his own world. The unhinged insanity has a loony allure. The mid-point between worlds, reached via a connective skyscraper(!!), is a visual marvel of Escher-eque topsy-turviness.
By the third reel, however, Solanas has tied his narrative into unsalvageable knots. The final two minutes are so ludicrous that the film immediately deserves to be shot into a dimension far, far away. Our reality need not experience it.
Critic’s Score: D
Directed by Juan Solanas
Casting by Susan Forrest
Starring Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall