‘The Belko Experiment’
Director:
Greg McLean
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The office drones trapped inside their corporate high-rise in “The Belko Experiment” have no clue why their mystery captors want them to kill each other. But the filmmakers’ motivation isn’t hard to parse: They just want to make heads explode real good. It’s not an ignoble goal, even if channeling the Stanford Prison Experiment just to make heads go boom seems pointlessly complicated, not to mention sadistic to anyone expecting something brainier. It’s like an MIT mathematician working on a convoluted equation that in end will show how to make fart noises.

It starts off witty, anyway: The staffers at a generic company learn that all their mindless, seemingly pointless busywork really didn’t serve any purpose. They were employed only so one day they would all be locked inside, forced to go battle royale until only one is left. Should anyone not play ball, their captors will set off little bombs planted in the back of their heads.

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Our heroes are thus faced with a moral conundrum, and we the audience will learn something bleak or inspiring (or both) about human nature. Except we don’t learn anything. Written by “Guardians of the Galaxy”’s James Gunn and directed by “Wolf Creek” sadist Greg McLean, it muddles through its plot and barely takes advantage of its premise. The good and the bad split in predictable ways: Of course the big wigs, led by classic go-to yuppie creep Tony Goldwyn, quickly take a liking to mowing down their staff. That might be accurate but it’s certainly not creative.

"Belko" plays like "Lord of the Flies" if it were stupid, but what it lacks in thought it tries to make up for in bloody kills. It’s not all about head trauma, though Gunn and McLean don’t even take much advantage of their setting. There’s an entire building of boring office supplies, and yet the only object turned into a weapon is a tape dispenser. “Belko” stocks the film with old school character actors — not just Goldwyn but also John C. McGinley and Michael Rooker — and assorted randos (John Gallagher Jr., Melonie Diaz), hoping that their personalities will make up for a building filled with interchangeable, un-care-about-able characters. 

But good or bad, rich or poor, recognizable or not, they are all equally dispensible in “Belko,” each death treated like a sick joke, sometimes with goofy music. “Belko” never had to be deep; it’s an exploitation movie. But the best exploitation movies slip in heady ideas amidst the trash and carnage. John Carpenter would have killed this.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge