Although I'm always careful to avoid others' opinions before I see a film and make up my mind about it, I often look at what others have to say after I've reached a conclusion. I'm regularly flabbergasted by opinions on films such as Sixteen Tongues--which I thought was horrible--because they are often somewhat favorable. It especially confounds me in light of the consistently negative reviews received by films such as, say, Boogeyman (2005) or Gothika (2003), which I don't think are masterpieces, but they're well made. If reviewers are using anything even remotely resembling my criteria for film criticism, I have a difficult time understanding anyone thinking that a film like Sixteen Tongues is great while they also think that films like Boogeyman or Gothika are horrible.
My current theory is that people are championing certain cultural facts. They're celebrating the simple existence of independent films made on extremely low budgets, which are marketed as being somewhat "underground", and in which filmmakers are trying to do something different artistically while they deal with at least some controversial subject matter. An attendant anti-"Hollywood", anti-commercial, anti-big budget attitude tends to go hand in hand with the above.
From my point of view, I'm critiquing the films only. I'm not critiquing any cultural facts, and I'm not giving any extra points or alternatively subtracting points for cultural situations that I'm in favor of or against, respectively. I think films should be viewed as if they exist in cultural vacuums. A movie is good or not only for what appears on your screen and comes out of your speakers. No other facts have a bearing on whether a film is good or not. Regardless of whether crap was produced for only ten dollars or ten million dollars, it's still crap. And Sixteen Tongues is crap.
There are some potentially interesting things about the premise, on the "forest" level. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future. The characters live in a run-down hotelapartment building. They have to pay for water with their credit cards. They also have to pay to shut off the television, which otherwise continually plays porno commercials similar to those for 900 numbers that run at the beginning of porno VHS tapes. The government is now building robots, including prostitution robots, combat robots and so on. For some strange reason, an ability to surf the Internet is a rare skill in the film, so a character possessing the ability is depended on and looked up to. Most of these facts have to be pieced together by the viewer over the course of the film, and they all read 100 times more interesting than they play in the film.
More pragmatically, Sixteen Tongues centers on three unattractive characters in two spartan settings. Although there is almost constant nudity, and there are a couple violent scenes, the vast majority of screen time is taken up with incessant talking and relatively inactive shots of these three characters while they provide narration. The story just isn't that interesting or well developed. The talking and narration are both very pretentious. And if they don't lean towards gobbledy-gook, they lean towards blandness.
The male character, Adrian Torque (Crawford James), was killed during the last war and then brought back to life. He required skin grafts, and for some reason that either wasn't stated or was too garbled to understand (the sound mix is pretty bad, and characters tend to mumble and can't enunciate very well) the skin grafts were done with 16 tongues. From what I could tell, they were supposed to be human tongues, but they're sizeable enough and have characteristics more like giant lizard tongues. Maybe dinosaurs exist in the film's world. Supposedly the tongue grafts still work like tongues, as Torque says he can taste things through them. The idea is ridiculous and in a better film could have been campy and funny (it's too absurd to work seriously, which is the attempt here). It seems to just be an excuse for an easy way to use the title "Sixteen Tongues".
The other two characters are Asian women who, despite being naked most of the time, are made to look as unattractive as possible. Ginny Chin-Chin's (Jane Chase) head has been shaven, which doesn't suit her, if it would suit any woman, and Alik Silens (Alice Liu) is made to look dorky--like those token male dweebs in teen comedies. It might seem like complaining about the women's attractiveness is trivial, but as the majority of the film is these two women rambling on and on in a hotel room with crappy production design and crappier cinematography, nudity is about the only possible attractor. Plus, Ginny, at least, is supposed to be sexy. Usually there's nothing I like more than seeing naked Asian women, but in this case, not really.
For some, the attraction here is probably the "daring" subject matter. The nudity in the film is full frontal. There is simulated oral sex (on a male) and simulated hand manipulation (again on a male). The television keeps showing a crappily-filmed-but-graphic porno commercial, and the walls are papered with crappily-designed-(and too often repeated)-but-graphic porno advertisements. I'm a big fan of putting taboo-breaking material like this in films, but here, it doesn't work. It seems like director Scooter McCrae included it just because it's usually taboo. That's not sufficient to make a good film.
I can't really think of a scene that wasn't poorly shot, poorly lit, poorly blocked and poorly set. I can't think of any aspect of the script that I liked. I can't think of any scene that even slightly drew me into the film. I can't think of any aspect of the performances I liked. I didn't get any aesthetic or philosophic value from the film. I've only given an extra point because the premise has a smidgen of potential and the film is somewhat coherent.
Review by BrandtSponseller from the Internet Movie Database.