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Fermat’s Room (DVD Review)

21 Aug, 2009 By: John Latchem

Fermat's Room

Prebook 8/24/09; Street 9/29/09
$19.98 DVD, Not rated.
In Spanish with English subtitles.

Clue meets Saw in the entertaining Spanish thriller Fermat’s Room, which makes clever use of a variety of brain teasers, the likes of which one might find in a Mensa test or a random e-mail from a friend.

The plot involves four mathematicians who are invited to a secluded retreat for an opportunity to solve a complex enigma. Being scientists, the four can’t help but be intrigued by the set-up and a chance to prove their superior intelligence.

They soon find themselves trapped in a sitting room with the walls closing in. Their only contact with the outside world is a PDA that presents them with a series of challenges. Solve the riddle, and the walls temporarily stop. The longer it takes to solve the problem, the smaller the room gets.

Linking brain teasers to life-and-death situations is nothing new in film. Die Hard With a Vengeance comes to mind. But Fermat’s Room has great fun playing with the notion that such intelligent people would let their egos overlook basic common sense. The writers use this situation to inject a wicked sense of humor into the proceedings.

The overriding theme is the notion that smart people will spend too many hours solving great problems for which the solution has little practical value. Is there much use in the real world for a proof of the Goldbach Conjecture or Fermat’s Last Theorem?

At its core, though, Fermat’s Room is a whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie, as the characters must solve not only the individual riddles but determine who has trapped them and how they can escape. The payoff is perhaps not as intriguing as the setup, but viewers who enjoy playing along with the mystery easily will overlook any shortcomings.

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