It's hard to recommend The Mutant Chronicles for any reason, but if you're interested at all, it's indisputably best to see it on the big screen. Initially released via Video on Demand, the film is not available in all areas in a widescreen format, and even high-definition digital cable fails to do favors for its already dubious special effects.
Then again, the tradeoff is that at home you and your buddies can all watch for one low price, while at the movies all of you lose money buying individual tickets. Because writ small or large, Simon Hunter's 23rd-century adventure is a disastrous bit of uninspired imagination that reminds genre fans of better films instead of surpassing them, and makes one long for the comparatively straightforward incompetence of filmmakers like Uwe Boll.
Written by Philip Eisner (Event Horizon), The Mutant Chronicles follows Maj. Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane), a classically cool soldier whose resolve is tested when he is sent on a suicide mission to destroy a machine that is turning Earth's human population into claw-fisted mutants. Collaborating with a ragtag group of warriors and misfits under the watchful eye of Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman), Hunter and company descend into the hellish underworld of the mutants, only to discover that the line between man and monster is thin indeed.
Quite frankly, there are so many clichés written into this story that it's hard to know where to begin deconstructing it. The opening scene, a gritty battle sequence stripped straight from Saving Private Ryan, evokes casual heroism and battlefield regret, both of which undoubtedly become a big part of Hunter's future motivation. From there, Brother Samuel delivers an impassioned speech to convince his bureaucratic superior (a sleepwalking John Malkovich) to allow a small, hand-picked team to make a last-ditch effort to save Earth. It is then disputable whether the multicultural ensemble of soldiers qualifies as lazy tokenism or the film's sole creative inspiration, but rest assured there are at least one woman, black, Latino and Asian among Hunter's gun-toting colleagues.
The remainder of the film essentially plays out like the second and third acts of Aliens, where the soldiers find themselves increasingly encircled by monstrous adversaries, although the mutants never quite seem fearsome enough. Perhaps it's because they are largely silent, or because their only reason for existing is to impale people's faces with those spiky hands of theirs, but they offer little or nothing in the way of a real enemy for our heroes, even when they are occasionally gifted with the power of thought or speech. Meanwhile, the political parallels and cultural metaphors fly fast and easy as we are reminded yet again that mankind is equally if not more destructive than these mutants, and that our wars are irrelevant in the face of more formidable problems—uh, like alien machines that gestate in the earth until they're activated by our cross-continental battles.
That said, the film does have a few satisfyingly crass scene payoffs, including when a kid dies and the ship that he's flying on explodes into a group of waiting refugees. But given the fact that we're supposed to be fretting for humanity's future, it's probably a bad thing that we're gleefully enjoying such wanton, reckless destruction. Then again, those are the film's only moments of originality or invention—not counting its unique distribution model—which is why it's best to take what little enjoyment one can from its mishmash of hackneyed formulas and get out while you still can. Ultimately, The Mutant Chronicles is barely flash and absolutely no substance, full of bad CGI and empty of good ideas, which is why it really doesn't matter where or how you see it, because no matter what the format, presentation or circumstance, it just doesn't work.