written by Mark Leidner
directed by Yedidya Gorsetman
by Walter Chaw More earnest than truly clever, Yedidya Gorsetman's shoestring Empathy Inc is a competently-made (save for one dialogue sequence where the actors are clearly on different sets) and reasonably efficient take on the Vic Morrow instalment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. If it ends up resembling more the Primer version of "The Prisoner of Benda", well, so be it. The picture starts well enough, as corporate middle-manager Joel (Zack Robidas) finds himself the scapegoat of a start-up's collapse, destitute and forced to move in with wife Jessica's (Kathy Searle) demonic parents (Charmaine Reedy and Fenton Lawless). An exceedingly irritating dinner sequence early on highlights Joel and Jessica's desperate need to move out, and so Joel invests a cool million of his father-in-law's cash in a VR tech that allows wealthy sociopaths to pretend to be poor. It's an empathy-graft, see, and it works for Joel, who doesn't seem to need it--and anyway, it's not clear why feigning homelessness would give the Trumps empathy for the homeless (it's like a starfish developing empathy for circus performers if you put it on a unicycle), but there you have it. Needless to say, the way the tech works is more Source Code than those goggles you slide your iPhone into. Well-performed if underwritten, Empathy Inc relies overmuch on extreme angles (probably to hide the lo-fi and found sets), though Gorsetman demonstrates a good sense of who to cast and how to use them to the best of their abilities. Too bad Jessica is an afterthought, alternately harridan and helpmeet, with her entire aspiring-actor subplot at once too clearly a metaphor for the masks we wear and too murky for any other purpose. The biggest mistake, however, is aiming for profundity when it should've been looking for ways to explore its concept. It says something when a Shane Carruth film is more fun than yours.