Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tribeca ’13: The Machine

There is a second Cold War on and China is winning.  Britain’s defense establishment is convinced their only hope lies in devising killer androids enhanced with artificial intelligence.  Oh, but perhaps they succeed too well in Caradog James’ The Machine (clip here), which screens as a Midnight selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

Vincent McCarthy could make bank in the private sector, but he has personal reasons for laboring in a subterranean government facility somewhere in Wales.  When Ava’s AI program comes darn close to passing the Turing Test, he recruits her for his double-secret research.  However, on her very first day she cannot help noticing the dodginess of the place, particularly the guards, who double as guinea pigs.  There seems to be something weirdly unspoken going on with the twitchy veterans who accepted AI implants to counteract their brain trauma.

When Ava is murdered under suspiciously suspicious circumstances, her pre-mapped brain is imprinted on “The Machine.”  McCarthy coaches her/it to be human and humane, but Thompson, the ruthless project director, orders a battery of more lethal instructions.  This leads to conflict.

It would be nice to see a film that considered the British and American military and intelligence services to be the good guys for a change, especially compared to the oppressive and increasingly militaristic Communist regime in China.  Sadly, The Machine is not that film.  There really ought to be an epilogue showing how China enslaves the world because of the resulting setbacks to the Free World’s R&D.  Instead, we just get Messianic themes warmed over from the Universal Soldier franchise, which in turn were cribbed from Metropolis, R.U.R. and a host of apocalyptically promethean science fiction morality tales.

Nonetheless, Caity Lotz earns favorable notice for her dual role as Ava and The Machine.  She presents two distinct personas, yet still credibly hints at connections between the two.  Toby Stephens works well enough as the brilliant but short sighted McCarthy.  Sadly, Star Wars alumnus Denis “Wedge” Lawson is completely wasted as the dastardly Thompson, who seems to engage in unnecessary villainy solely to precipitate McCarthy’s crisis of conscience.

Very little of The Machine makes sense, starting with the moody Miami Vice ambiance.  One would think a research laboratory ought to be well lit, but evidently this is not the case.  Despite Lotz’s interesting performances, The Machine is predictable and heavy-handed.  A disappointment, it screens again tonight (4/27) as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.