Updated: May 11
Prisoner and recent paraplegic Matthew Mills (Jackson Gallagher) is recruited for an experimental treatment which promises to give him mobility again. Left without a choice, he signs off on the experiment, overseen by Satoshi-Telefair neuroscientist Dr. Emmett Snyder (David Arquette) and new team member Dr. Allison Turner (Kendal Rae). As Matthew learns the extent of his new powers, Dr. Snyder puts him through the ringer, employing the Axle guards to break Matthew down. Can Matthew survive the experiment before protocol surpasses morality? Or will advancement in science reign supreme in the ominous structure known as The Wheel?
I’m not sure where the trend of comedic actors taking villainous roles in independent films started, but using The Wheel, also known as 2099: The Soldier Protocol, as a point of reference, it’s not a trend I’m immediately averse to. David Arquette is a competent actor, if not an endearing one, and his turn as Dr. Snyder in this sci-fi action yarn is interesting to see played out. In his comedic roles, like in the Scream series or, gods forbid, Ready 2 Rumble, his characters are over-the-top and too much. Yet as a villain, as a calculated scientist, he is almost subdued, showing enough restraint to be noticed, but not so much that it takes away from his performance overall. I’m not implying that this is the role of his career, but it’s not one that should be avoided if one can help it.
The action sequences are a joy to watch. The swordplay in the cold open took me by surprise, but it played out very polished. The film has a monochrome color palette, which lets the action in the foreground stick out that much more. Without all of the distractions, or even the stark white that one might expect from a laboratory setting, there’s that much more of an oomph to everything going on. It’s refreshing to see an action film largely devoid of gunplay, with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, and hints of weapons such as baseball bats and swords.
To that end, the film is brutal, but not gruesome. The viewer feels the bones breaking and blows landing, but save for one moment of punishment, there’s not much gore or graphic content. The healing effects, a symptom of the nanomaterial Matt has been injected with, are animated in such a way that one knows it must be CG, but it’s not blatantly so.
The Wheel is not a pretty film, but it is an impactful one. The writing is a bit on the shallow side, but there is enough happening on screen at any given time, even during the Spindle control center scenes, that the overall product doesn’t completely fall apart. It’s a fun watch, what an old college friend of mine might call an “awesome dumb movie.” That may sound like an insult, but that same friend classified Starship Troopers as an awesome dumb movie, so do with that knowledge what you will.