I have a new entry in the "movies I saw for the first time on cable" category, alongside Fargo: Dark City. By writing anything about it, I'm probably expected to mention the Matrix, but I won't and you can't make me! More generally, Dark City's similarities to other movies I like reduces it in my eyes because those other movies were more enjoyable. Minority Report has dreamlike precog visions in place of Dark City's dreamlike memory flashes, not to mention a major character being afflicted by doubts about his innocence. A darkly-styled city appears in many other movies (is Sin City disqualified because the entire movie is incredibly black anyway?). Seeing people hover and emit mental blasts in this movie isn't terribly exciting if the viewer (me) has seen X-Men. The bar for people merely acting loopy was set pretty high by Twelve Monkeys. Ignoring the M movie, trapping people in constructed realities was handled with style by the "Perchance to Dream" episode of the Batman animated series, and "Legends" of the Justice League series. Someone having memory trouble is pretty much the thrust of Memento. Freaky guys, even kids, with ghostly skin? Check the horror aisle.
Saying that a movie is in good company doesn't necessarily indicate that it's entertaining or not, just that it's overshadowed. Some of the ingredients of this movie predisposed me to want to like it. Kiefer Sutherland is so ingrained in my mind as Jack Bauer that I get a strange pleasure out of seeing him in anything else because it doesn't feel right (the Sentinel doesn't count). In Dark City he's a batty scientist with a halting speech pattern. He bugged me at first, but then I started to like him, maybe because he's off-screen for a few stretches of time, and I felt the absence - his importance to the movie is that he seemed to be the most interesting character for me. The others lacked personality, or if they had personalities I failed to be intrigued. For the Strangers, this is to be expected. For Jennifer Connelly, not so much. Then again, for Connelly it may be expected. I can't say for sure, because I'm a poor judge of acting. In her case, I'm hopelessly biased, too, on account of the (mostly harmless! really!) fascination I have for watching her, a fascination that's similar to the Eliza Dushku fascination I mentioned elsewhere. It doesn't help that she's in three off-kilter and critically-despised movies that I inexplicably like: Hulk, Labyrinth, Rocketeer. Her presence hardly lifted this movie, but she did fine with what she was given (I guess).
Indeed, Dark City felt weighed-down and dreary to me, which may have been its intention. Blame the great disparity between the abilities of the Strangers and the humans, blame the humorlessness, blame the well-justified despair a dark city has, blame the nasty-looking knives the Strangers pull out at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, it is a fine-looking movie. Fine lighting, fine compositions of the shots, pretty good effects. Perhaps I'm too happy to like this movie. Eh, it was worth the time to see it on cable.