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Wachowskis’ post-‘Matrix’ descent continues with ‘Jupiter Ascending’

In “Jupiter Ascending,” humans are harvested like crops, one planet at a time, so their cells can be used to rejuvenate the members of an intergalactic ruling class, allowing them to measure their life spans in millennia.

You’re supposed to be appalled by this horrible wastefulness in the name of vanity.

But you’ll likely be too busy focusing on another sort of wastefulness — the tens of millions of dollars thrown at scene after listless, uninspired scene, all to satisfy the vanity of filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowski of “The Matrix” fame.

Bored by the bare-bones plot, thinly drawn characters and meaningless lies and double crosses, I couldn’t help but turn my attention to wondering how many man-hours went into designing one barely glimpsed alien or how many weeks stars Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis frittered away hanging from wires and harnesses.

The daughter of a Russian immigrant, Jupiter Jones (Kunis) spends her days scrubbing other people’s toilets and hating her life. When she’s coaxed into selling her eggs for “life changing money,” she’s nearly murdered by the doctors before being rescued by Caine Wise (Tatum), a genetically engineered bounty hunter.

If you think Jupiter Jones and Caine Wise are terrible names — and they are — just wait. You’ll eventually be introduced to Stinger Apini, Balem Abrasax, Gemma Chatterjee, Phylo Percadium and Chicanery Night, monikers that sound like they came straight out of a “Hunger Games” name generator. Or a skit from “Key &Peele.”

There’s more to Caine, who resembles a gone-to-seed Nick Lachey, than it appears. He’s had his genes spliced with those of some sort of wolflike creature. He also had wings, but they were removed as punishment for attacking a member of the royalty, an act that also cost him his position in something called the skyjackers, whose purpose is never explained. Now, he gets around thanks to a pair of hoverboots that let him skate through the sky like he’s part of some silly looking anti-gravity revival of “Starlight Express.”

There’s more to Jupiter than it appears as well, which is why Caine has been sent to fetch her. She’s a Recurrence, born with the exact gene pattern of Seraphi Abrasax, the murdered matriarch of one of the galaxy’s most powerful families. Also, she can control bees.

Since Seraphi wrote her Recurrence into her will, Jupiter is in line to supersede the Abrasax siblings and inherit her vast estate, which includes Earth. Not surprisingly, the feuding Abrasaxes, with all their accompanying mommy issues, have designs on Jupiter.

Beautiful Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) tries to befriend her. The charming Titus (Douglas Booth) is determined to marry her, despite the fact that she looks exactly like his mother. And creepy Balem (“The Theory of Everything’s” Eddie Redmayne), with his death-rattle whisper that sounds as if he’s inhaling his words, just wants her dead.

Poor Redmayne. He’s in what appears to be a two-man race with Michael Keaton for a best actor Oscar and he’s saddled with this mess, intended for release last July, just as the final voting begins. Then again, best actress favorite Julianne Moore is front and center in this weekend’s equally dismal-looking “Seventh Son,” which originally was set to open in February 2013.

There’s simply nothing here to get excited about. From the dull, joyless aerial chase that makes a mess of the Chicago skyline to several scenes that capture the thrills of outer-space bureaucracy, “Jupiter Ascending” misfires on every cylinder.

There’s no doubt the Wachowskis are gifted filmmakers, and they’re full of inventive ideas. But once again, the visuals get in the way of what passes for a story. Some of the aliens are of the standard little green men variety, while one looks like the lead singer of a Tokyo pop band circa 2007. Others appear perfectly human, only with random bits of technology stuck to their heads. And some, like Caine, are “Island of Dr. Moreau”-style splices: One guy looks like an owl, another a bit like a mouse and there’s a brief shot of some dude with the head of a tiny elephant.

After a series of diminishing returns that began with the “Matrix” sequels and went on to include “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas,” someone needs to rein in the Wachowskis. Maybe instead of “Jupiter Ascending’s” reported $175 million budget, give them $50 million next time and force them to focus on characters.

Because at this rate, you’re more likely to get a better return on your investment by dropping a lit matchbook on those millions and assuming the fire will burn itself out before all the bills are destroyed.

What a waste.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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