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A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: William Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Steven Spielberg's A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is a captivating, science fiction story about the quest for motherly love. A Pinocchio-like tale, it features another astonishing, guileless and certainly Oscar caliber performance by Haley Joel Osment as a robot ("mecha") named David. Frances O'Connor (MANSFIELD PARK) plays his human "mother," Monica Swinton.

Originally the creative baby of Stanley Kubrick (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and EYES WIDE SHUT), this joint collaboration of Spielberg and the late Kubrick shows more of Kubrick than Spielberg. Divided into 3 sections, the movie is two and one-half parts brilliance and one-half part unnecessary, feel-good ending. Reportedly, it is this last part that is uniquely a Spielberg touch. Kubrick, who wasn't involved after the development stage, is given only a concept credit. The film is also dedicated to his honor.

Set in a time in the future after an ecological disaster has caused Manhattan and other coastal cities to be under a few hundred feet of water, the movie features a lot of wealthy people who are coping with the help of human-like mechas. These mechanical wonders look exactly like humans unless you penetrate their skins with knives or X-rays. What mechas can't do is have genuine human emotions. They are, however, great at faking everything, including love. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) makes a truly radical proposal. He and his team will build mechas who can truly love "with love that will never end." David is serial number one in this new line.

The professor believes that he has found an ideal couple to bond with David in the Swintons. Mother Monica is racked with grief over the "death" of her "real" son, Martin (Jake Thomas, THE CELL), who has been cryogenically frozen until a cure is found for his disease. Her husband, Henry (Sam Robards), is a remarkably unimportant character whose only contribution is to attempt to get his wife some happiness by bringing David home.

The story raises intriguing moral questions at every turn with the greatest of these being: what does it mean to love, what responsibilities do we have as humans and what does it mean to be real? It also poses such eternal questions of childhood as David's of, "Mommy, will you die?" His question takes on extra poignance since it seems that he will live indefinitely while she is mortal and therefore quite perishable. What David wants most of all is to be a real boy so that his mother will love him.

A computerized teddy bear (voiced by Jack Angel), who asserts "I am not a toy," is the film's most endearing character, calling to mind Spielberg's famous and loveable E.T. David is the film's most tragic character.

The intricate script recalls parts of many movies, including Sid's toy chest from TOY STORY and the bar scene from the original STAR WARS. Stan Winston's robotic special effects are amazing, as always. His pièce de résistance comes in something called the Flesh Fairs. These garish and ghoulish spectacles are gladiator bouts as the World Wrestling Federation would stage them. Mechas are chopped up, blown up, melted and otherwise slaughtered to delight a cheering crowd. "Let he who is without sim cast the first stone," Lord Johnson-Johnson (Brendan Gleeson) asks the crowd. Humans, who have an organic brain and therefore no need for a simulator ("sim"), are deemed superior and therefore permitted to crush those inhuman bits of fake flesh known as mechas.

Jude Law, as Gigolo Joe, is a lovable mecha who befriends and is befriended by David. With a snap of his head, Joe can play music to soothe the ladies before he beds them. And with a flick of his hand, he can change his hair color. He's a love doll, who does not really love, but can only "make love."

Robin Williams -- who else? -- does a nice turn as the humorous Dr. Know, a franchised, electronic knowledge dispenser, to whom David turns for advice. Content providers who have had trouble figuring out ways to make a profit from the Internet might look to Dr. Know as a model of possible salvation.

Adopting a mecha into the family has some frightening consequences that aren't easily guessed. John Williams's music with its creepy undercurrents reminds us to always be on our guard. Filmed in a beautiful haze by Janusz Kaminski (SHINDLER'S LIST), the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat as you are sweep into its mysteries and its characters.

After reaching an absolutely perfect concluding spot, the last act tacks on a long feel good ending that is more likely to infuriate than to please. The result is less than a masterpiece but much, much more than the typical movie fare. And it is, thankfully, a summer movie with something on its mind.

A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE runs 2:20. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and violent images and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 12, gave it ** 1/2. He thought it was interesting and had impressive images. He was troubled by what he thought were many logical holes. He also complained that it ended at the wrong place, saying, "not all fairy tales have to end perfectly in happy endings." He, independently, wished that the film would have ended in exactly the same spot that I did.

Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes

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