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Alexandra DuPont is not all that impressed with the IQ of Spielberg's AI

Well, it appears AI hit Ms DuPont exactly the same way it struck Father Geek. What was it I said in that mini review a few days ago? Oh yeah, "Beautiful, but somehow empty; Awesome, but not awe inspiring." Anyway here's Alexandra's well spoken comments...

I sort of wish I could write this as a personal memo to Mr. Spielberg, truth be told -- and that I could direct the Beard to Professor Moriarty's excellent (albeit spoiler-binging) demolition of the film. The Prof, you see, really gets at the heart of what's wrong with the movie, despite his logorrhea.

Putting it briefly, "A.I." -- while visually stunning and boasting no small amount of ambition and clever acting -- is, alas, a noble failure. Precisely one person applauded at the film's conclusion in my packed preview audience, and at least one person laughed at the applauder for doing so. I'll declare the movie a noble failure for precisely two reasons:

(1) "A.I." is ponderous, but unlike a Kubrick film, it is ultimately ponderous in the service of CHEAP SENTIMENT -- a deadly admixture.

(2) "A.I." does not trust its audience, and feels the need to spell its points out when they'd be best left enigmatic.

I'm not going to go too deeply into the three-act story, spoiled to death elsewhere already. Suffice to say, the movie takes an Oedipally obsessed robot boy and his plucky Teddy Ruxpin from (1) domestic tragedy to (2) "Blade Runner"/"Mad Max" Lite to (3) "Close Encounters" (only with insultingly explicit narration) over a leisurely two-and-a-half hours.

I'm also going to say right up front that the movie packs a few absolutely smokin' moments, performances and imagery. Jude Law, for example, is terrific -- reacting to any and all surroundings with the small set of flamboyant mannerisms allotted to him by his pimp programming (which means he does such off-kilter things as dance a soft-shoe in a muddy wood). In fact, all the robots interact with each other within the limits of their programming-set agendas, making for an odd set of protagonists and social dynamics; the resulting effect is a bit like watching a movie starring highly functional mentally-challenged adults, each with a different goal.

"Props" also to Haley Joel Osment (esp. the stunning moment when he begins to "feel," plus another moment as he clambers awkwardly through the ice after a long shutdown); the Kube-channeled visuals, which are stunning again and again and again, really; the sibling rivalry between Osment and his rascally flesh-and-blood "brother"; the effects, particularly those involving robots and the destruction thereof; a gleefully weird denouement for Jude Law; and the antics of the toy "Teddy," who sounds like a Speak and Spell trying to channel an NPR newscaster.

But.

This is important: All those impressive elements just sort of don't hang together. Seriously. Yes, Spielberg takes up Kubrick's languid pacing and slight iciness toward his characters, but Spielberg also (a) milks the sap -- I counted at least three too many shots of robots crying, a cheesy staple of far too many robots-yearning-to-be-human morality plays already -- and (b) doesn't trust the audience to sort out the narrative curveballs he throws at the end, and so chooses to smother them with Ben Kingsley narration that overexplains -- and thus explains away -- any magic to be had.

So. What we've got here is an undeniably talented craftsman stylistically aping one of the 20th century's greatest filmmakers with uncanny precision -- only he fails to trust the story he's telling. The result is a bit maddening, because "A.I." is packed with irony and ideas and images but it's also slow, disengaging, corny and saddled with more than a few logic flaws and bits of narrative silliness.

I predict everyone will see the movie exactly once. But what do I know? Here's what my pal Alina DeVries (my date at last night's preview and perhaps not coincidentally sitting by me at yon word-processor this morning) would like to add per my request. I have included some bracketed additional commentary:

1) "A.I." is NOT a Stanley Kubrick film. "A.I." is a Steven Spielberg film.

2) John Williams' score seems a hodgepodge of some of his (and other people's) better ideas. Still it's not as cloying as it could be, and disappears into the background quite well. [Loving JW's heroic, bolder scores, I personally found this one a bit dull -- "Empire of the Sun" leeched of some vital essence. -- A.DuP.]

3) Haley Joan [Joan? --A.DuP.] Osment is awesome in this movie. What Agee said about Shirley Temple might apply here as well: Is this guy a midget?

4) What Kubrick is great at (leaving you with something to question for days after the movie is over) is what Spielberg is quite probably the worst at. To paraphrase Kael, Spielberg is great the way a good Big Mac is great -- even when he does something like "Schindler's List." Has any Spielberg movie had anything that would count as a subtext intentionally? Though Spielberg tries his best, there is nothing here that makes you question the world at large the way Kubrick's films do.

5) Jude Law plays Gigolo Joe, a robot that plays Fred Astaire music and is essentially a human vibrator who gets caught up in a badly staged murder mystery. He has nothing to do in the film. Enough said.

6) Robin Williams and Chris Rock have vocal cameos, and Ministry plays a concert called "Flesh Fair". Staged rock and roll in movies always sucks -- as do noticeable cameos by stars more than halfway through a non-comedy. No exception here.

7) Kubrick probably would not have personified the robot as Spielberg does, and the robot's quest is supposed to be the center of the film, but one never senses Spielberg's possible discomfort with the idea of a robot's love or what it means for humans to create robots that love. It reminds one of the "standing on the shoulders of giants" line from "Jurassic Park." But this is never addressed and never becomes the crux of the film.

8) It is 140-plus minutes long, and there are at least three discernible points where the audience was questioning if the film was done yet or not.

9) It's an incoherent film, but it makes an interesting transition point for Spielberg. To what?

10) All these complaints lodged and it's still the best film I've seen this summer, and has people using multisyllabic words, yet suffers the same lack of depth as everything else that has come out.

Sigh. Back to you,

Alexandra DuPont.

dupont@dvdjournal.com

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