Part of the reason why science fiction author Philip K. Dick fascinates me–okay, more like a good chunk of the reason–is because of the reason why he was so good at writing stories involving themes of paranoia, loss of identity, and metaphysical weirdness: namely, he suffered from a kind of mental illness that translated really well into his fiction. Among other things. And since insanity is kind of a hobby of mine, of course I would have been drawn to Dick’s work sooner or later. And now, if you’re done giggling immaturely at the multiple use of the word “Dick”, let’s continue on with this review, shall we?
I haven’t read the book Radio Free Albemuth is based on yet (getting around to it, there), but from what I understand, it’s a mind-blowing stew of sci-fi that takes on new meaning when you realize that it’s semi-autobiographical, as far as Philip K. Dick was concerned. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I really don’t know if this movie follows it closely, and considering the track record of all of the other movies that are based on Philip K. Dick novels and stories, it would be more surprising if this one did stick close to the source material.
Regardless, the story of Radio Free Albemuth tells the tale of a record producer named Nick who starts getting strange visions by way of alien signals being beamed into his brain every night in the wee hours of the mornin’. Both his wife and his best friend–who just happens to be writer Philip K. Dick…how meta–initially think he’s having a breakdown of sorts; but when his visions start having this uncanny way of coming true…yeah, they still think he’s having a breakdown, but now they just smile and nod politely. Soon, though, sNickers meets Alanis Morissette, who has been having the same kind of visions, and together they decide to record and release a super-subversive song to help stir dissent against the fascist regime that controls America, because this is an alternate reality of sorts, and there are roves of SS-style police called the Friends Of People…or FAP, if you needed to giggle uncontrollably…roaming around ready to spirit you away to jail at the drop of a tin-foil hat. Are there aliens beaming things into people’s heads? Is there really a government conspiracy to stamp out those in tune to said alien frequencies? Will I manage to stay awake during the entire run of the movie?
Oh, but this was a rather long, boring mess of a movie to sit through. The pacing just kind of plods along, the actors give performances that seems like they’re sleepwalking through everything. Maybe this was a directing decision? To put forth that everyone is sleeping through the reality? I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ve seen more charisma and dynamic acting in a grade school play than I did watching this movie. Which is a pity, because I have no qualms with the plot itself. I count myself as a fan of Philip K. Dick, the writer. I haven’t read the VALIS trilogy, which is what this movie is derived from, and for the most part it does have the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia that I love so very much.
I get the feeling that Radio Free Albemuth could have been pulled off with enough of a budget and much more work on both the script and getting some actors with even a modicum of personality. Maybe a different 90s alt rock star, instead of Alanis Morissette. Shirley Mason was pretty good in the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
In the end, Radio Free Albemuth ranks as one of the lower adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s material. Watch it if you must, but just remember to have the coffee ready to go.