Like last year's <I>Code 46</I>, <I>Children of Men</I> (CoM) is set in the near future when escalating social problems force authoritarian regimes to invoke drastic "solutions" on the world's populace. Unlike <I>Code 46</I> though, CoM is not a love story, it's much harder-edged and ugly. It's also got oodles of action as well. CoM is best described as a sci-fi road movie, it's also surprisingly good, certainly one of the better sci-fi releases of recent years.

CoM is set in England in 2027, where London appears to be the last place where "normal" society still goes on. Due to some unspecified environmental disaster, humans have become sterile. The biggest celebrity on the planet is the youngest person alive ? the last baby born, who is now an 18 year old. Unfortunately, he doesn't stay alive too long, stabbed in a brawl which triggers a Princess Diana style outpouring of grief across the globe.

Our hero, played by Clive Owen, is a cubicle gnome working in some <I>Brazil</I>-like future-Britain bureaucracy. Owen, against all the odds, actually manages to turn in a decent performance in this movie, far better than his recent outings in the woeful <I>I'll Sleep When I'm Dead</I> and hugely over-rated <I>Croupier</I>. His performance in CoM is, as usual, wooden and stoic, but this actually seems to work within the context of this film.

The plot revolves around a young girl who through some freak of nature has managed to become pregnant. Our hero then has to spirit her through the bizarre wasteland that is future England to an offshore rendezvous with an outlawed scientific organization that may represent mankind's last hope for survival. The pair are hotly pursued by the authorities - looking to score a propaganda coup with the pregnant girl - and all manner of feral (think <I>Mad Max</I>-ish) characters along the way.

The never explicitly stated motives of the authorities and the somewhat obviously "engineered" nature of the pursuit don't really stand up to scrutiny, but as a plot device it works fine, only really coming unstuck at the end, but even then a little suspension of disbelief will carry you through. This is really the only quibble I have with the film.

The best performance in the film is from Michael Caine, who turns in a blinder as the elderly, pot smoking (could this be a new elderly character stereotype, started by Alan Arkin's heroin-snorting grandad in <I>Little Miss Sunshine</I>?) father of our hero. Caine lives in a secret forest hideout with his mentally ill wife, spending his days toying with the chillingly named "Quietus" euthanasia kit.

Action fans will enjoy the stunningly staged urban street-fighting, with plenty of automatic weapons and a smattering of tanks. But the real star of this move is the production design.

The director (Alfonso Cuaron) has created a future urban tableau that is utterly believable and horrifying. Homeland security is everywhere, "illegal immigrants" (read Muslims and other minorities) are routinely shipped off to "camps", beaten and shot. Travel papers are de rigueur. Cardboard cities are ubiquitous as are the flat screen advertising billboards. Society is breaking down, people realizing that without children, there is no hope and without hope, why bother doing anything? Schools are overgrown, long deserted, ghost-buildings ? a stark reminder that humanity's days have come to an end.

The attention to detail in the production design is incredible and like <I>Blade Runner</I>, the futuristic vision created in CoM will likely live on and influence other movies. The DVD release of CoM contains plenty of detail about the production design and is recommended!