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‘Elysium’ review: great Matt Damon action, awful Jodie Foster acting

‘ELYSIUM’ ★★★1⁄2

Max Matt Damon

Delacourt Jodie Foster

Kruger Sharlto Copley

Frey Alice Braga

Julio Diego Luna

Spider Wagner Moura

Tristar presents a film written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (for strong bloody violence and language). Opens Thursday at local theaters.

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Updated: September 9, 2013 7:33AM

Jodie Foster delivers an unbelievably terrible performance in “Elysium.”

Maybe the worst acting ever done by a two-time Oscar winner.

A performance so awful I found myself keenly anticipating Foster’s next scene to see if she would keep on bringing the dreadful.

I say this as a HUGE fan of Jodie Foster. I’m telling you, it’s amazing how bad she is in this movie.

And how little it mattered in the grand, rabidly schizoid scheme of things.

The Summer of Futuristic Doom continues with “Elysium,” written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who showed such great promise with the claptrap minor classic “District 9” and announces himself here as an “event” filmmaker — that rare breed whose very name preceding a title should inspire smiles of anticipation.

Set in a predictably dystopian future (for most of the film, the year is 2154), “Elysium” tells us Earth has become a vast wasteland of pollution and corruption, with the .001 percent having fled to a Utopian space station that hovers above the planet like a second, heavenly, taunting moon.

Elysium is like a giant North Shore enclave, with the added benefit of nifty machines that can cure just about anything that ails you. (Lost opportunity: Blomkamp gives us only glimpses of life on Elysium, with beautiful people lounging poolside and perfect little children eating anything they want. Is Elysium really paradise — or a beautiful Hell?)

Meanwhile, Earth is essentially a slave colony, run by heartless bureaucrats from Elysium that occasionally visit the filthy planet, which is monitored by ruthlessly efficient, emotion-free robot police officers.

If you thought “District 9” was a thinly veiled allegory about apartheid, “Elysium” is a thinly veiled allegory about nearly every environmental, political and social issue imaginable. Subtlety isn’t on the menu. (If Fox News doesn’t do a segment about how “Elysium” is propaganda in favor of Obamacare, it’ll be an upset.)

Matt Damon’s as good as anyone’s ever been at playing the anti-hero, and he’s true to form as our guy here, who gets knocked down again and again and again but keeps getting up, determined to see things through.

Head shaved, muscled torso covered with tattoos, Damon’s Max is a career criminal trying to live the straight life working the assembly line in a factory. (In one of the film’s many ironies, Max helps build the very robots that terrorize and abuse humans on Earth.) After Max is exposed to a dose of radiation that will kill him in five days, he agrees to take on a seemingly impossible mission that will transport him up to Elysium and those magical machines that can cure anything.

Which brings us to Foster’s Defense Secretary Delacourt, who speaks a variety of languages, wears impeccably tailored outfits as she monitors life on Elysium, runs roughshod over Elysium’s figurehead of a president — and plans a coup that will eventually depend on her accessing the information that’s literally been downloaded into Max’s brain. (Don’t ask. Just know it’s a really bloody explanation.)

The problem is, Foster/Delacourt delivers every line as if she’s lost a bet.

Which makes it oddly compelling.

She walks ramrod straight and affects an accent that makes her sound like a young person imitating an old person. Perhaps she’s trying to look and sound like the droids that enforce her genocidal views, but it’s all just terribly, terribly off. This is a classic example of a great actor making all the wrong choices.

As for Damon’s Max, rarely has a leading man in an action film spent so much time either limping, passed out, trying to stem wounds or collapsing in a heap of pain. Of course the heroes in these films almost always sustain a serious wound or two, but not at this level.

Max’s quest to reach Elysium brings him into the path of his childhood best friend Frey (Alice Braga), now a nurse whose young daughter has terminal leukemia; Spider (Wagner Moura), a Los Angeles revolutionary who keeps sending rogue spacecraft across the Elysium border even though it almost always results in the mass slaughter of the passengers; and the mercenary Kruger (“District 9” hero Sharlto Copley), who doesn’t let a little thing like eating a grenade keep him from hunting down Max.

The special effects in “Elysium” are breathtaking, whether somebody’s face is getting blown off or we’re getting those tantalizingly brief looks at life on Elysium. Damon’s everyman workhorse is tragically sympathetic, plodding ahead against all odds. Copley is brilliant as the sadistic villain.

Foster is … well, you gotta see it to believe it.

In the meantime, you’ll be treated to one of the most entertaining action films of the year.

Twitter: @richardroeper

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