Aeon Flux,’ by Calvin Klein: Theron flaunts her stuff in world’s first runway movie

“Aeon Flux”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Karyn Kusama

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Starring Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Sophie Okondeo, Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite

Rated PG-13/88 minutes

Opened Dec. 2, 2005

Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Beneath the Revlon faade, Charlize Theron is an actress of impressive depth. She plays Aeon Flux, a futuristic assassin who wears the sort of skimpy, form-fitting battle gear that will only protect her from harm if her opponents are too busy admiring her scenery.

There’s a scene in which Aeon (pronounced “E-on”) flips, dodges and handsprings her way through a series of traps while infiltrating an enemy stronghold (shot in luscious slow-motion, of course).

She dives toward a patch of grass that hisses and stiffens itself into a patch of blades. Aeon is able to catch herself just in time, the blades a hair’s breadth away from gouging her cheek.

“Keep off the grass,” her partner, Sithandra (Sophie Okondeo), tells her with the kind of seriousness befitting a movie that struts with all the joy of a European runway model.

The same can be said about the whole movie: “Aeon Flux” is a hair’s breadth away from plummeting, face-first, into a deadly pit of ridiculous sterility. The only thing stopping its fall is Theron.

Four hundred years in the future, an unnamed virus (perhaps the Asian Chicken Flu?) wipes out billions of human lives-save the million or so who retreat to a closed community and ingest a cure manufactured by Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) and his brother, Oren (Jonny Lee Miller).

The Goodchilds (Goodchildren?) run their new world like an Eden of concrete and steel. Citizens stroll and shop and love in an overly art-directed, automaton kind of way, which makes a certain amount of sense the more the story unfurls. Things are perfect and peaceful-if the people can overlook the occasional unexpected kidnapping or murder.

The Monicans cannot overlook these crimes. They are a rebel group fighting against the Goodchilds’ dynasty, sabotaging their security and assassinating their higher-ups. Led by The Handler (Frances McDormand, her fiery, red mane looking like a carroty garnish from a snooty restaurant), their orders are beamed directly into their brains by way of a pill they ingest. Nothing like the privacy of your own skull.

Aeon is the most deadly of the Monicans, often dispatching clueless sentries by leaping onto their heads and breaking their necks with a jerk of her muscular thighs (to which a dead sentry must say to his buddy in heaven, “Not a bad way to go”). Aeon gets the jump on Trevor Goodchild, pointing a pistol at his face until he says with a puzzled look on his face, “Catherine?”

In an era of “Matrices” and “Islands,” it’s a given that reality isn’t what it seems in “Aeon Flux.” It’s no surprise that the 400-year-old virus is more and less than it seems. The details of that “more and less” are fairly interesting and, perhaps, a little impossible.

That impossibility gives “Aeon Flux” a faint whisper of fun. Gizmos and doohickeys abound, the coolest of which is a strap-on device (now, now) that warps Aeon between two versions of the same room. The second room exists in a parallel dimension, I guess. However it works, it proves useful in one of “Aeon Flux’s” many girl-on-girl fight scenes (there’s no question at which audience this movie is aimed).

All of this takes place on austere sets that look like modern-art designs gone wild. Actors and actresses speak dialogue that’s been lifted to such great heights of stuffy importance, they can look down and spit on Neo’s head.

The only factor keeping all this from sweeping the Razzies is Theron. With her wet, soulful eyes, she manages to lend her character-and the entire production-an air of legitimacy that it would otherwise lack.

Contrary to popular speculation, “Aeon Flux” is not Charlize Theron’s “Catwoman.” She may keep her Oscar.

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