Sunday, January 15, 2012

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor
Director: Steven Spielberg

Well, I ended 2011 with a Steven Spielberg film, so I might as well begin 2012 with one as well. Regressive? Maybe. How about I review one that is a little different from "Warhorse"? How different you ask? Well...this one sucks.

First, a little back story. The film was originally going to be helmed by the great director Stanley Kubrick, but he sadly passed away before it could be adapted to the big screen. So Spielberg took on the project and cast Haley Joel Osment, still a big star after "The Sixth Sense," as the main lead. So what do you get? A mess...

This review will be a bit longer than what I usually post and there will be spoilers, so...be prepared.

Based on the short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss, it takes place in the future where the ice caps have melted, the cities have flooded, and people are being attacked by terrible-constructed CGI mega sharks and giant octopuses. Well, maybe not. Anyway, a scientist played by William Hurt (I can find out his character's name, but I just don't feel like it) wants to create a boy robot which will feel unconditional love, leading to the ethical question: can people love them back? Well, let's find out shall we?!

The first third of this film is almost like the plot of a sci-fi horror movie. One of the roboboys is "adopted" by two parents (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards) whose own son is in a seemingly terminal coma. The boy is named David: he is nice, does what he is told and...is as creepy as hell! He follows his mom all over the place, including when she is using the toilet (hmm I was expecting the shower; touche, movie), all while wearing this blank expression on his face. There is also this really weird scene where he all the sudden burst out in forced laugher, causing the parents to laugh, before ending in awkward silence. Well...that's apparently enough for the mom to decide she is going to keep him! I personally would have had it sent right back to the factory, destroyed the little hell-spawn and made it into Bender from "Futurama," but to each their own!

"Hello, I'll be your pretentious, overly cute, child actor for this film."

Well, the roboboy now acts slightly more boy than robo, and this is where the movie begins what becomes its biggest problem. David's face goes from being a cold smile to a that of an open mouthed, scarred little boy who looks like he has no idea what he is doing. You know, Osment's normal look! He also stops being a creepy robot and starts to act more like a mildly creepy momma's boys who constantly needs attention. Yes, this is our main character folks. Have fun with him...

Oh yeah, one minor note I feel obligated to address. The family also owns a robotic teddy bear that possesses its own form of artificial intelligence. Okay, okay, okay, hold on, I swear it is not as quite as stupid as it sounds! Yes, at first it is rather disturbing in a movie that did not need to be anymore disturbing. In fact, I'm not really sure why they added it to begin with because it serves almost no purpose to the story. However, the bear, while lacking in personality, does try to be helpful at times, even to the point where he seems wiser than most of the main characters. Yes...the animatronic teddy bear is one of the more likable characters in the movie. That's...............ugh....
Guess which one is the better actor...

Well, the fun does not last for long, because (surprise) the parents real son Martin (Jake Thomas, the kid who played Matt on "Lizzy McGuire") wakes up from his coma. And guess what, he is an obnoxious little brat! He manipulates David to do to a bunch of bad stuff. Now to be fair, I do not have too much of a problem with this part. Sure the kid is a jerk but given that he suffers from "one child syndrome," it kind of makes sense in a brotherly manner that he would do this and it's nice to see a film where even if someone, a child no less, is sick for a long time does not make them a saint. Or maybe I just do not like David and therefore don't care what happens to him!
He used to see dead people. Now he doesn't really see much of anything...

Anyway, even though the parents realize what is going, the roboboy becomes too much of a hassle for them to deal with, so they prepare to send him back to the lab to be destroyed. Strangely, it's the father who forces the mother to get rid of David...even though it was his idea to get him in the first place. Kind of a flip flop, huh? And then, ugh, the mother pulls a "The Fox and the Hound" and sets the robokid loose in the woods. I believe her thinking was "I can't bear to have you destroyed, so I am going to set you free in an environment where you have no survival skills and filled with people who will catch you and destroy you in the most gruesome way possible! I'm truly the Mother of the Year!"

It is at this point where we are introduced to another character, Gigolo Joe, played by Jude Law. As his name implies, he is a sex robot who spends his time pleasuring the ladies. But he runs into trouble when he is framed for killing woman and eventually meets up with David. Joe is probably the only character who I genuinely like in this film (other than...the teddy bear). He is charismatic, he has good moves (no, I don't mean...no...), he is clever, and he has a healthy dose of cynicism but is still optimistic enough to look forward to the future. He is a really good character and Law plays him very well. So...WHY WASNT HE THE MAIN CHARACTER!!! Okay he didn't have to be the lead, but dear god, why have this cool sidekick attached to such any annoying lead! Its like the two don't even belong in the same movie! Rather frustrating, indeed!

Anyway, the two of them and the teddy bear (yes, he sticks around, just don't ask) meet up after they are captured by these anti-A.I. fanatics, headed by a guy played by Brendon Gleesen. They are then taken to this fair where robots are destroyed in front of a crowd of raging rednecks. There were some parts about these scenes that didn't really settle with me but not enough so I could really be to bothered to nitpick about them. I guess my biggest complaint that it is a virtually pointless aspect of the film. While it shows the tension between the battle over man and machine, there are other ways they could have done it. As it is, it really doesn't progress the story that much. They show it, David and Joe and the bear (....) escape, and that's it; the incident is almost never brought up again. Was filler really necessary in a 2 and a half hour film?!

Osment: "Gee, Mr. Law, we sure are going to have a great time making this movie!"
Law: "I wonder if it isn't too late for me to sign on to that 'Road to Perdition' script..."

So David sets out on a quest to get his mother to love him. How does he plan to do this? By finding the Blue Fairy from the Pinocchio story to turn him into a real boy. Wow, I don't know whether that's really stupid, sad, or both. For some reason, Joe goes along with it, and he leads them to Dr. Know, this annoying supercomputer that projects a 3-D version of Albert Einstein, voiced by Robin Williams (who incidentally was in his own subpar, futuristic robot flick, "Bicentennial Man"). It leads them to the now semi-submerged New York City, where they find themselves in the lab of Hurt's character. Hurt tells David how special he is because he is the first of his kind. But David wants to be the only one of his kind, throws a hissy fit, and then sets out to find the Blue Fairy on Coney Island [insert joke here]. Joe is captured by the police so that he can be transported to a better movie, Hurt is...never seen again for some reason, and David and the bear use a machine to go underwater. They find a model of the Blue Fairy, David keeps making wishes to become a real boy, they get trapped underneath a Ferris wheel, and are frozen.


Or at least that's what I would like to have had happen, but they still have the rest of the third act to drag out.

So 2,000 years go by. Humans are extinct, New York is completely frozen over, and aliens are digging up the remains of the area. They find and defrost David and the bear, and since the roboboy is one of the last links to the human race, you guessed it, they treat him like he is very special! They also tell him that they will be able to bring back his mother, but only for one day. So the mom is brought back, David gets her all to himself like he always wanted being the little attention whore that he is, she goes to sleep, he goes to sleep (even though he said earlier that he technically can't), and then he either goes into a coma or dies, I don't know, something about dreams and such, the teddy bear sits on the bed wondering what the hell it's supposed to do, and the movie, finally, finally, FINALLY ENDS!!!
Wow, he gets to sleep in bed with his mommy. It makes me wonder who he would be like if he really was a real boy and grew up to be a real man...

Yeah, this looks about right.

Oh boy, that was a doozy. So how to sum it up...?

This is the kind of movie that has some things that work and other things that really, really, really don't work at all. It has an interesting plot and at least two decent characters, even if one of them is a teddy bear. But everything else is a problem. The main character is a selfish little whiner and too creepy for his own good, the rest of the characters are mostly forgettable and the story seems to feel the need to drag itself out for no reason.

Even the moral seems to be off. We are told point blank that it is whether humans can learn to love a non-living being. So what is the answer. Well...it's unclear. The mom cares enough about David so that she secretly lets him loose, even though this almost seems crueler than destroying him. But there never appears to be a point where it seems she loves him. When she is "brought back to life" she seems more like a spirit than an actual person. So even though this version says she loves David it does not appear that this is really her talking; just a figment of Davids mental capacity (I wont even be surprised if the aliens manipulated her so she acted this way on purpose). I think the story actual is about whether robots can love, but that answer seems a little more definitive: no. And that leads to a problem for this movie...

If I had to say my biggest problem: I just didn't care about what happened. While I admit that story keeps intrigued enough to get you through to the end, you still don't really care about what happens to the main character. I make fun of Haley Joel Osment's acting, but to be fair, I am not sure how well any actor would have done because the part is written so badly. David is unlikeable due everything I already mentioned, but also because he is programed to be that way. It is not like in other films where there are some technical glitches or some other abstract interference that makes it so that the character wants to achieve a certain goal. He does it because that is what he is supposed to do. When he is stuck at the bottom of the ocean, making his wishes, it's not a sad child wishing against the odds in the name of love; it's more like watching a wind up toy that hits a wall and can't move around it. He never really becomes a real boy in either a physical or an emotional sense. So why bother?

So that is the film. Despite the efforts of two of cinema's greatest filmmakers, it's a wreck. I can't honestly say that I hated it because it was at least trying to be a great movie, but there are just so many things that go wrong with it that final product is just annoying and unpleasant. Therefore, I do not recommend it.

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