Operation: Snooze fest
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Robert Forster, Tim McInnerny, Dylan McDermott, and Melanie Griffith
Director: Gabe Ibáñez
Running Time: 110 minutes
Automata might as well have been a mild form of valium for how boring the middle of the film became. The truth is, there was excitement when I purchased my ticket – the trailer had sold me a futuristic robot film that was a cross between I, Robot and Her.
Instead we got Antonio Banderas giving in a solid performance in a film that lacked simple foundational story elements that would have pulled me from my slumber.
Automata is Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez's second feature film, after toiling for years in a digital production house working on short films. His first feature, Hierro, was a solid effort with emotional depth and great camera work. While Automata showcases more of Ibanez's visual prowess – some shots look flat-out beautiful – the story is simply not enough.
The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which only a few million humans live. These people live in a city that is almost entirely built by robots. These machines have two cognitive principles ingrained into them: 1) do not harm humans 2) do not repair yourself or other robots.
Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is an insurance agent for the ROC robotics corporation and discovers that some robots have been able to violate the second rule. From there, the company goes after him to prevent the news from getting out since it could have huge implication on the future of humanity.
Again, Banderas is brilliant in the film as a man who is fed up with his predicament despite playing by the rules. He easily carries Automata with an emotional depth that teeters on madness and desperation. One particular scene stands out, when he is in the desert with a chocolate bar.
What ruined the film was everything else. It began as an interesting look into the applications of robots into our everyday lives (from domestic to even sexual). Eventually, the film starts to get seemingly interesting, only for it to fall flat. Looking back, the film's downfall can be traced back to one person: Melanie Griffith.
As Dr. Dupre, we are supposed to buy Griffith as a genius engineer of robots who went rogue and now works in clandestine fashion. But her teenie-girl, trying-too-hard-to-be-sexy voice betrays any semblance to her character. It immediately took me out of the film and is offensive to the work Banderas had done just before in keeping the audience interested.
In that same vein, Dylan McDermott's performance was too tacky of a portrayal of a hot-headed cop (You don't always have to yell and brood, Dylan!).
Automata is another tale of great expectations with even greater letdown. If there's anything we learned here it's that Banderas' acting chops are solid and that trailer editors have gotten better over the years.