The suspenseful dystopian thriller “Zone 414” (*** OUT OF ****) appropriates tropes from both Fritz Lang’s silent, science fiction, robot classic “Metropolis” (1927) and Howard Hawks’ tenacious murder/mystery “The Big Sleep” (1946) with Humphrey Bogart as a private eye. Similarly, Guy Pearce plays David Carmichael, a hard-nosed, insubordinate detective, like Bogart, that the police department retired because he refused to follow protocol.

Revitaa ProApparently, during an altercation, a felon took his partner hostage and killed him. Now, a visionary robotics genius decides to hire this financially destitute ex-cop to locate his missing daughter Melissa (newcomer Holly Demaine) who has vanished somewhere in Zone 414. Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel of “Danger Close”) has created a city of robots which provides his ultra-affluent clients with androids as intimate companions.

The authorities have granted Veidt carte blanche clearance to use Zone 414 as a proving grounds for his cutting-edge AI (artificial intelligence) research. The entire operation is sealed off from the city in a fortified district. Towers with heavily armed sentries and a state-of-the-art security surveillance system ensure none of the androids abscond into the general population.

369manifestingMarlon Veidt’s eponymous robotics corporation is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The last thing the Veidt Corporation needs is unpleasant publicity about homicidal activities in Zone 414. Naturally, rather than  filing a missing person’s report, which might have cast a cloud of controversy over his highly classified operation, Marlon offers this widowed, ex-detective,  a $2-million payday to find his daughter.

Safety is an overriding factor in Veidt’s business. He cannot afford to have the media shedding light on questionable activities behind closed doors in Zone 414. As it turns out, Carmichael is ideal, partly because nobody has passed the first test that he nailed without a second thought. Veidt advises Carmichael to team up with Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz of “Revenge”), his technological snowflake after he enters Zone 414. According to Veidt, Jane and Melissa were friends.

Revitaa ProInitially, “Zone 414” seems as abrasive as its steely-eye protagonist. Usually, audiences are supposed to like the hero. Indeed, with his spartan demeanor, David Carmichael seems hostile. Guy Pearce makes Carmichael appear not only ramrod straight, but he also wears one expression like a statue, when dispatched to execute a frightened woman, Jaden (Antonia Campbell-Hughes of “Lotus Eaters”), who awaits him anxiously in a cell.

Our protagonist is given an automatic pistol to assemble. With clinical efficiency, Carmichael racks the slide atop the frame of the gun, pops an ammo clip into the handle, and attaches a silencer to the muzzle. During this interval, freshman director Andrew Baird punctuates Carmichael’s brisk assembly of the firearm with a series of metallic “clicks” and “clacks” as well as “snaps” and “snicks.”

Maintaining a deadpan expression, Carmichael confronts the terrified Jaden. Sinking to her knees, this fragile female looks up at Carmichael in desperation. A more vulnerable woman you cannot imagine. Carmichael shoots her once in the forehead without a qualm. The bullet silences Jaden and hurls her backwards. Later, Marlon’s obnoxious brother, Joseph Veidt (Jonathan Aris of “Vivarium”), lavishes praise on Carmichael for his willingness to kill without hesitation.

369manifestingAfter he shot Jaden in the head, David knelt over her body, sliced deeply into the flesh at the nape of her neck with a switchblade, and then peeled back her entire scalp from her skull to remove an oval, steel plug atop her head. Reaching into Jaden’s hollow cranial cavity, Carmichael took out a gadget with a blinking light. Eventually, Veidt’s technicians arrive and haul away Jaden’s body.

A brutally honest guy, Carmichael accepts life’s setbacks without regrets. Now, he seems utterly heartless, until he encounters Jane. She justifies Marlon’s raves about her. As androids go, she is far from ordinary. The amoral madame, Royale (Olwen Fouéré of “The Survivalist”), who supervises liaisons between client & robots in Zone 414 warns Carmichael not to trust her. “She asks questions. Questions she shouldn’t want to know the answers to.”

Ultimately, Carmichael will redeem himself, largely because he will behave like a knight in shining armor and deliver Jane from the clutches of a sadistically maniacal villain. Carmichael changes in response to Jane, but their relationship never turns amorous. Incidentally, Jane defies sci-fi author Isaac Azimov’s three rules of robots that he formulated in his 1942 short story “Runaround.”

Revitaa ProAccording to Azimov, Rule One dictates a robot must neither harm a human nor by a deliberate lack of action let a human be harmed. Rule Two stipulates a robot always obeys whatever instructions a human give it. Rule Three is a robot avoids actions or incidents that could endanger itself. Mind you, Jane violates all these rules.

Ironically, the androids show greater compassion than the humans. Jane shares similarities with Ava (Alicia Vikander), the android heroine in “Ex-Machina” (2014) who escaped from her creator and vanished within the general human population. Jane qualifies as the most compelling character in “Zone 414” because she constantly surprises us with her revelations.

Baird makes an impressive directorial debut with “Zone 414,” and he never lets the expository dialogue diminish the headlong momentum of this tense nail-biter. Scenarist Bryan Edward Hill of “The Russian Specialist” pits Carmichael against a treacherous rogue’s gallery of characters that keep the ex-cop on his toes. Hill’s gritty dialogue is often quotable. Travis Fimmel steals the show with his performance as the eccentric Marlon Veidt.

369manifestingBeneath layers of prosthetic skin, with disheveled shoulder-length hair, Fimmel resembles the long-haired, robot inventor Rotwang from Lang’s “Metropolis” who engineered a female robot that fooled everybody into believing she was actually human. During this R-rated film’s straightforward 98-minute runtime, Baird orchestrates tantalizing suspense and intrigue.

The outcome of “Zone 414” may defy expectations, especially the search for Marlon’s rebellious daughter who felt more at home with her father’s synthetic designs than her family. Altogether, Baird has helmed an entertaining, hardboiled, sci-fi saga that generates moments of interesting ambiguity in a near distant future.

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