United States. Directed by Christopher Leone, 2015. Starring Mark Hapka, Jessica Rothe, Eric Jungmann, Constance Wu, Michael Monks. 83 minutes.
Parallels is the story of Ronan Carver (Mark Hapka) and his estranged sister Beatrix (Jessica Rothe), who reunite when they both receive cryptic voice-mail messages from their eccentric father: be at a certain address at a certain time on a certain day. With Bea’s annoying childhood friend Harry (Eric Jungmann) in tow, they arrive at the location–a modern but seemingly deserted office highrise–at the appointed time. However, when they leave the building, they find themselves in a rubble-strewn post-apocalyptic wasteland–except for the building, looking shiny and completely out-of-place.
They also discover they were wrong about the building being deserted, as Polly (Constance Wu) shows up to deliver some exposition. Every thirty-six hours, the building…teleports? translocates?…to the same location in a parallel universe. Some of the Earths are very similar, some are very different. One may be exactly like the one the Carvers come from, only with one less mosquito; in another, human society was devastated by a series of nuclear attacks apparently triggered by…well, I’m getting ahead of myself here, but that’s the one we spend most of the second act in.
The film poses a lot of questions (who turned the building into a dimensional travel machine? How is the Carvers’ father involved? Does the Council of Ricks meet in the building?), very few of which the movie even remotely attempts to answer before its seemingly-inexplicable cliffhanger ending. Instead, the script spends inordinate amounts of time on tangential B-plots that don’t really go anywhere (a dilemma involving Harry and a less ethical alt-universe double comes to mind as an example). So what gives?
Well, it turns out that Parallels isn’t really a movie per se; rather, co-writers Christopher Leone (who also directed) and Laura Harkcom intended it as a series pilot, only nobody ever ordered the full series. The characters’ adventures likely end here, although Leone expresses hope that he’ll be able to continue with the story in some form. In the meantime, the studio “morphed [Parallels] into a stand-alone movie,” in the words of the project’s IMDB page.
I’m not really sure, then, how to judge Parallels. As a pilot, it has a lot of great ideas, an intriguing “mythology,” a flair for supporting characters and no small amount of wit and charm. Unfortunately, it also suffers from hackneyed plot beats, very little chemistry between the actors (Hapka and Rothe don’t just seem estranged, they come off like they’ve never rehearsed together) and a big widely-used-archetype-that-needs-to-die in Harry, the nerdy, awkward “nice guy” with a long-standing crush on Bea. He’s the sort of character who only works as a character–a real-life version would strike everyone as creepy–and even so, we seem to be moving away from romanticizing these Duckies and Lloyd Doblers.
That being said, many if not most pilots are iffy; actors need to grow into their characters, characters need to find their voices, and shows need to figure out how to do what they do best. Even when they’re good, they don’t always presage the direction the overall story will take. Leone and Harkcom might have ironed out many of the kinks with time. Maybe they’ll still get that chance.
However, Fox Zero Day released Parallels as a movie, and its provenance as a pilot requires research to dig up. And the truth is, it stands alone about as well as The Fellowship of the Ring would have if Peter Jackson had cut the final forty-five minutes and never made the sequels or prequels. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching, but I do have to warn you what you’re in for.