Part of Dear Cast and Crew's Mockbusters Series
I can't help but wonder, Graham, if you were familiar with the 'mockbuster' genre prior to being cast in Atlantic Rim. It certainly is a clever word, evoking memories of such classic satires as Airplane and The Naked Gun. Heck, perhaps your agent even pitched this project to you as a sharp-witted, Zucker Brothers-style parody of this summer's blockbuster Pacific Rim.
Regardless of whatever duplicitous means were employed to bring you on board, the production's true nature must have come as quite a shock. I don't want to come off as needlessly antagonistic, so I won't ask what it was like for you, a former Oscar-nominated actor, to realize that you were starring in the type of low-budget rip-off that exists solely to piggyback off the success of a bigger hit (or to trick people into purchasing what they think is the real McCoy). But believe me when I say this, man: you are far, far and away the best thing about Atlantic Rim.
I've thought long and hard about how best to describe your performance. But even now, days after viewing the "film," I can't find the words. Your demeanor onscreen seems to suggest that you find the material completely unworthy of your time (and rightly so), yet somehow you're simultaneously giving it your very all. In other words, it seems as if you care, but also don't care at all. This duality makes your character, a fairly stock military officer, absolutely fascinating to watch.
In nearly every scene you look as if you'd rather be somewhere else (possibly throttling your agent), and you bark out your lame-brained dialogue ("Pipe down, guys!") with little discernible enthusiasm. But there's a something indefinable behind your eyes that keeps your character, against all odds (and, boy, are there some long odds), weirdly compelling.
If only your fellow actors had decided to follow in your footsteps, then Atlantic Rim might have been a far more tolerable experience. Clearly they were aware of the film's quality (or lack thereof), and instead of playing it straight we have to watch them struggling to hide smiles; a sort of unpleasant self-awareness that, in David Chokachi's case, makes the audience curse their ability to both see and hear (you must have showed some truly admirable restraint while interacting with him on the set--unless there are some choke slam/backhanding incidents that have yet to be made public).
Unfortunately, the filmmakers seemed oblivious to the miraculous quality of your performance, and they drop the ball in a big way in the third act. For a film that so shamelessly apes Pacific Rim's core concepts - aquatic monsters rising to wreak havoc on the surface world, experimental robots with a neurological link to their military pilots (or in Chokachi's case, a neurological link to alcoholic frat-boy douchebags) - the one thing writer Thunder Levin decided to steer clear from was having the leader of the operation - your character - suit up to take part in the climatic final battle. A poor choice, I think, especially since your character is given precious little to do in the previous hour of the movie besides staring at computer monitors and yelling at people wearing eye patches.
If only you had been allowed to take part in the movie's climax, maybe then the ten-minute-long "spectacle" of Rock-'Em Sock-'Em Robots zipping through the air and swatting at a dragon with what appear to be giant stop signs might have gained some degree of excitement or emotion or humor.
And by "some" I mean "any."