This Is Not My Beautiful Wife

Lucy Liu as ‘Rita Foster’ in “Cypher”If a replicant of Philip K. Dick were charged with remaking Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, I suspect he would come up with something resembling Cypher (2002).

This shiny, stylised spy-fi flick stars Jeremy Northam as nebbish accountant ‘Morgan Sullivan’, who’s recruited by a large corporation called Digicorp to assume a false identity and secretly record various convention speeches across the country, using a tricked-out pen-microphone. Unfortunately for him, these tedious lectures are nothing more than soporific background noise for the company’s brainwashing programme, intended to convince him and the other attendees that they are in fact the people they’re pretending to be, so they can be embedded as sleeper agents at Digicorp’s major rival, Sunway Systems. Then there’s a whole other twist, involving Sullivan becoming a triple agent, which I’m not even going to try to explain or spoil. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of espionage and counter-espionage going on, and this poor schmuck is caught in the middle of it, trying to avoid a total mental meltdown as drugs are pumped into his veins, and crazy flashing images are blasted into his clamped-open eyes. Eep! [Note: There doesn’t seem to be any warning on the film itself, but I imagine the brainwashing sequences would be deadly for any epileptics watching.]

Lucy Liu being interviewed on the set of “Cypher”The only constant through all of this confusion is his overwhelming attraction to elusive femme fatale ‘Rita Foster’, played by Lucy Liu, who entices Sullivan with her icy allure and incredible beauty, before attempting to set him straight. Obviously this kind of “enigmatic enchantress” is a well-worn cliché, but when the final twist lands, Foster finally gets to loosen up and reveal the warmth and devotion behind the persona she’s been adopting all along. It’s a pretty great ending, actually… and one that makes you want to go back and watch the whole thing over again, with new awareness. Although her role is quite small, in terms of actual screentime, I’d still heartily recommend that Liu fans (Liu-natics?) check out the two-disc “Special Edition” for the behind-the-scenes stuff of her mucking around on set, and the unedited interview footage of her talking passionately about the project and her career. As director Vincenzo Natali notes, Liu’s often associated with quite severe characters, so it’s nice to see how funny, sweet and playful she can be when she’s off-duty.

Oh, and after being introduced to Kari Matchett as a spy-boss in Covert Affairs t’other day, she appears here as the duplicitous faux-wife of Sullivan’s cover identity! Synchronicity!

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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