In a future where genetic engineering is the norm and those who don't have it suffer limited social advancement, Vincent has none, but dreams of being an astronaut. He's infiltrated the Gattaca corporation, who can put him up there provided he can keep outwitting their rigorous testing procedures - but his boss has been murdered.
Sci-fi written and directed by first time helmer Andrew Niccol, a vision of the 21st century when genetic engineering is the accepted norm to produce perfect people - and anyone conceived out of love is handicapped by the stigma, labelled an "in-valid" (geddit?), and barred from social or professional advancement.
The story is the predictably simple one of an in-valid Vincent (Hawke) bucking the system to fulfil his romantic dream of space travel. Gattaca (pronounced gat-a-ka), is the name of the corporation that can put him on a rocket to Titan, Saturn's 14th moon. The twist: in order to escape the system Vincent must first fool it by posing as Jerome (Law), genetically perfect but crippled by an accident, so now bitter and willing to sell his bodily fluid, and tissue samples to allow Vincent to pass the constant ID tests required to work at Gattaca.
And so against a backstory of Vincent's remembered parallel struggle against a genetically superior brother, he passes all the tests, works at Gattaca and watches rockets lift-off, longing for his turn. He falls in love with co-worker Irene (Thurman) and all goes well until his boss (Vidal) is murdered and forensics find an in-valid's eyelash, prompting a search for the cuckoo in the hitherto perfect Gattaca nest.
It's a great set-up but sadly the plot unfolds slowly and with little action, playing like a short story. Visually, Niccol's vision of the 21st century is intriguing, returning to a classically 40s style with slick haircuts, plain clothes, and electric cars that look like Citrons. A Frank Lloyd Wright building, doubling for Gattaca H.Q., confirms the vision of a future that is sparse and functional, with only men and women as beautiful as Hawke and Thurman to look forward to; Blade Runner neon or Fifth Element chaos don't get a look-in.
It's chiefly a tense head vs. heart struggle with Hawke, ironically, almost blandly perfect and Law's bitter cripple the most exciting performance. There's good support from Alan Arkin as the homicide detective but for all its style and promise, Gattaca is far easier to look at than actually watch.