“FAST COLOR” — 2½ stars — Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Strathairn, Lorraine Toussaint, Christopher Denham, Saniyya Sidney; PG-13 (a scene of violence and brief strong language); Tower; running time: 100 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Ruth lives in a dystopian world of the future where mankind’s ecological abuses have made a couple gallons of water as expensive as a night in a lousy motel.
We meet her as she’s checking in to one such place, driving a stolen car and nursing some nasty rope burns on her wrists. Soon after settling in, a mild earthquake hits the area, and she’s back on the run.
That's the start of “Fast Color,” director Julia Hart's moody, low-key, post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. We don’t know where Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is running from, but we soon gather she’s on the way to a middle-of-nowhere town called Garrison. Things look up for a moment when a friendly diner named Bill (Christopher Denham) offers to give her a ride, but they don’t get far before his increasingly spot-on questions suggest that Bill is not what he seems.
Eventually, Ruth makes it to Garrison, where she finds her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) holed up in a white farmhouse with a young girl named Lila (Saniyya Sidney) a ways out of town. Slowly, the pieces fall into place: Ruth is actually causing the earthquakes, thanks to a distorted form of some “abilities” the women in her family have harbored for decades that involve breaking solid objects into their natural elements and then reassembling them. Ruth hopes reconnecting with her family will help fix the problem … hopefully before Bill and his government friends get to her first.
Early on, “Fast Color” establishes some nice tension, revealing just enough to keep you interested in what is happening and where it’s about to go. But the more you find out, the more Hart’s film settles into a kind of ponderous groove that eventually works its way into a solid story arc but struggles to register on the Richter scale.
Partially because of budget, and partially because of strategy, “Fast Color” is pretty reserved with its special effects, but the visuals it uses look good. “Fast Color” also benefits from a strong cast, anchored by Mbatha-Raw and Toussaint, and also including David Strathairn as the local sheriff, Ellis.
The rural setting makes it a little easier for this independent production to pull off the idea of a dry, post-apocalyptic wasteland, but the significance of the setting is pretty much ignored for most of the film until it becomes more critical in the third act.
There’s a nice family and motherhood theme to the script, which was co-written by Hart and her husband Jordan Horowitz. But “Fast Color,” a story featuring a woman on the run, struggles to engage and gets stuck on the road between good idea and satisfying finished product.
Rating explained: “Fast Color” is rated PG-13 for some violent content and some brief profanity.