When I heard that the SyFy network was preparing a feature film based on the Red Faction video game franchise, I was a bit dubious about the outcome. It's difficult to jump genres and mediums and still satisfy the most stalwart of all fans. In addition, SyFy has a spotty track record, at best, in its original movie presentations usually opting for low budget creature features with plenty of cheese. I'm afraid that I feared for the absolute worst--and yet, I was pleasantly surprised. From the standpoint of a SyFy network original, "Red Faction: Origins" is a pretty accomplished presentation boasting good performances and genuine heart. Much more of a family drama than a shoot-em-up action thriller, I don't know how everyone will react to this more low-key and character driven approach--but I, for one, appreciated this grounded and emotional tale. While it doesn't break new or original ground in its plotting, it is still a solid stand alone movie that also fits comfortably within the mythology of the game's narrative. That said, anyone expecting monsters and propulsive action (as you might get from a first person shooter) will likely be disappointed by the film's gentler tone (which fits more comfortably into the realm of a rescue adventure).
Years after the liberation of Mars, Robert Patrick plays hero Alec Mason who is still reeling from the death of his wife and the abduction of his daughter. On a routine recovery mission, his son Jake (Brian J. Smith) encounters soldiers representing a force thought long absent from the planet. More significantly, it appears that his now-grown sister is among them. Setting off on a dangerous scheme to find his long lost sibling, he stumbles upon a more nefarious plot to undermine the political stability of the planet's two opposing factions. Smith gives an understated performance as the determined hero, while Patrick lends surprising depth as the disillusioned patriarch. Less successful are a plucky sidekick and romantic interest--a little too upbeat and conventional. The sister, as well, has her life completely upended but has little emotional connection to the people she's been raised with for about 20 years--no complicated moral dilemma here! Science fiction fans might also appreciate seeing Battlestar Gallactica's Kate Vernon and Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd in smaller, but pivotal, roles.
I'm not contending that "Red Faction: Origins" is a remarkable new science fiction epic that can't be missed. But for a SyFy network original, it stands heads above much of their recent fare. Again, if you want a brutal battle film approximating the video game play--this isn't it! This is a story of one family and their quest to come together again. It is driven by character as opposed to action mayhem. And on its own terms, it succeeds at what it is attempting to do. Whether that is good enough for some of the franchise fans remains to be seen--but I suspect the reaction will be divisive and vocal. For me, this rates about 3 1/2 stars which I'm rounding up for being so much better than I had anticipated. KGHarris, 6/11.