Computers Can Do That?
“StartUp” on Crackle
Odds are good you’re not exactly intimate with Crackle. If you own a PS4, Xbox 360, a Roku box or a Sony Blu-Ray player, you may recognize it as the pack-in app you’ve probably never launched. The Sony Pictures Entertainment-owned service offers free television and movies with imbedded commercials. Basically, it’s Sony’s version of Hulu. Until recently it was the best place to watch off-air reruns of “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “227,” “Benson” and that short-lived 2011 reboot of “Charlie’s Angels.” Starting in 2015, the company pledged to start introducing some original content. Since then, viewers have seen (or not), shows like “SuperMansion” and movies like Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser.
With its latest addition, the dark and dirty crime drama “StartUp,” Crackle is starting to punch above its weight, bypassing the streaming world of Hulu, jumping over the original content power of Netflix and going straight for the hard-hitting adult drama of HBO. Needless to say, this is not HBO. It’s not even TV. It’s an internet streaming service trying to catch some attention.
“StartUp” is attention-grabbing all right. Within two minutes, we have our first sex scene. Before the pilot is half over, we’ve got two more. Take that, “Game of Thrones.” It’s all pretty gratuitous—even though the naughty bits are strategically covered. But at least there’s cursing.
The storyline centers around three main characters. First up, we have corrupt FBI investigator Phil Rask (Martin Freeman, who—between this and Captain America: Civil War—is suddenly American). He’s busy banging his ex-wife (sex scene number three) and shaking down criminals for large sums of money. Next up, we have Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero), an impoverished, twentysomething, Cuban-American computer genius who has invented an untraceable, unhackable digital currency. (She’s involved in sex scene number two, by the way). Lastly, we’ve got Nick Talman, a tie-wearing Miami financier (played by Adam Brody, best known from his work on “The O.C.”). Nick’s put between a rock and a hard place when he’s asked by his crooked father to help smuggle $2 million out of the country. Turns out, of course, he’s being blackmailed by Phil. If only father and son had some way of converting money into an untraceable, dare I say digital, form of currency. ... So, yes, the three storylines do crash together in rather predictable fashion.
“StartUp” wants very badly to be a down-and-dirty, high-tech, neon-noir crime thriller. It’s got visions of Heat and “Mr. Robot” dancing in its head. But it comes across more like “Miami Vice” crossed with “Silicon Valley.” The crime stuff feels like Hollywood posturing. The computer stuff comes across as far-fetched. And the sex stuff is just lipstick on a pig. The series—written, directed and created by Ben Ketai, who gave us horror also-rans 30 Days of Night: Dark Days and The Forest—does hunt-and-peck its way around some modern-day concerns like venture capitalism and paperless economy. But it never digs deep enough, settling for a glossy coating of soft-R sex and violence to spackle over the gaps in its tangled, crime-and-computers narrative.