Artificial? Yes. Intelligence? No. Steven Spielberg took up a story idea that had apparently caught the attention of Stanley Kubrick at his most misanthropic. But if Kubrick’s films grew ever more loathsome after he entered his English hermitage, Spielberg one ups the master with a film that is both loathsome and idiotic. It’s basically a futuristic variation on PINOCCHIO/’40, something of an idée fixe for Spielberg who even had composer John Williams put a slice of ‘Wish Upon A Star’ into CLOSE ENCOUNTERS/’77, the only other film where he claimed sole script credit. In A.I., the kid is no puppet, but a super-realistic automaton, tossed into a real-life family where his creepy overdose of loving devotion isn’t able to handle actual human complications. Fine, well and dandy. What makes it all revolting, and typically Kubrickian, is that this mechanized loyalty is presented as something better than the flawed human variety. Kubrick, at his long-lost best (he went ‘round-the-bend toward the end of 2001/’68), would have revealed (and reveled) the black humor in how humankind undervalues this simulacrum; Spielberg takes it all at face value. The little known D.A.R.Y.L./’85 covered much the same ground, but Spielberg isn’t done with us and spins out an extra hour to fill us in on the end of mankind, the return of his aliens from ENCOUNTERS (thinner than ever!) and, in the only emotional jolt of the pic, the still standing towers of the World Trade Center in the watery grave of future NYC. The film looks wildly expensive, but the effects just weigh things down with too much smoke, fog, mirrors & arty silhouette shots. It’s exhausting. We’re supposed to cringe with disgust at the tasteless Fun Fair scenes (sex, gambling, sadistic demolition sideshows & junk food), it’s Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island and, look!, there’s Brendan Gleeson making like Stromboli, the puppet show master. Jude Law is (somehow) very good as a smoothie robot gigolo, but he lets us down by not showing us his secret technique for a good time. Everyone else makes like zombies (very Kubrickian), except for Haley Joel Osment as the creepy kid who wants to be real. You gotta go back to old Luise Rainer films to find an actor who spent so much time looking up hopefully.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Robin Williams, who does a voice-over in this, last worked for Spielberg in HOOK/’91. Can we keep these two away from each other?
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Duh, PINOCCHIO/’40.