They have the technology, they can rebuild her.
Vincent (Toby Stephens, Die Another Day) is an engineer working for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, trying to develop super soldiers using artificial intelligence technology. Vincent hires Ava (Caity Lotz, The Pact) and American engineer to assist him in the project, after he sees her advancements with the technology. When Ava is killed by a Chinese assassin, her likeness is used to house the highly advanced android technology she created. However, when it’s discovered by the government that Ava the Machine is alive and has a conscious, she and Vincent become a liability to the government which must be eliminated.
The good news: The Machine is not a terrible movie. The bad news: it ain’t a good one either. The acting is fine, and the special effects are surprisingly good, considering this is a low budget affair. So why isn’t it a good movie? It’s what kills many movies that have great potential — the writing. Writer/director Caradog W. James’ script is average at best, a mesh of many popular sci-fi themes all thrown together in a most uninteresting manner.
The Pros: Toby Stephens and Caity Lotz have great on screen chemistry and are the most appealing aspects of the film. It doesn’t hurt that Stephens looks like Hugh Jackman’s younger brother, and the guys will get a thrill out of Lotz who is a beautiful woman. There’s a love connection when she’s human, as well as when she goes android…and surprisingly, the robot love angle never feels icky. Also, the special effects are surprisingly fantastic, thanks to two talented companies — Bait Studios and Minimo VFX. Bait did the bulk of the work, including the opening sequence where one of the characters only has half a head, which looks squeamishly realistic. Minimo was responsible for the 3D effects, including one of my favorite scenes, where Ava the Machine is in silhouette and her body is glowing from the inside, as if she is electrically charged. It looks amazing!
The Cons: If you’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Terminator, Robocop, or any sci-fi film in the last 20 years for that matter, you’ve pretty much seen The Machine. There aren’t many original ideas here, and with a lackluster script, it’s hard to overcome that fact. Even though I enjoyed Lotz’ performance, she is much more interesting as the android than she is when she’s a real girl. Either Lotz is a far better actress when the emotional investment is minimal, or the script is only effective for monosyllabic dialogue. The editing is choppy, causing my mind to wander and lose interest in the story. And on top of all that, there is a scene so awkward it’s unintentionally humorous. It occurs when, out of the blue, some random Chinese assassin murders Ava in cold blood. What??? Where the hell did that come from?! Sure, we’re aware the Brits are in competition with the Chinese, but I literary laughed out loud when this happened, because it seems the scene was created just so the filmmakers had a plausible reason for Ava to become The Machine.
There is a secondary storyline about Vince’s moral ambiguity, in regards to a job with some ethical challenges. His justification for working with a corrupt government involves helping his daughter who suffers from some rare disease, but this seems mostly unnecessary, dragging down a film that’s already struggling to keep its head above water. The pieces are in place for a good movie, but maybe if Caradog had a little more time to massage his story, and a bit more cash on hand, The Machine could’ve been a more respectable contribution to the genre.
XLrator’s DVD release features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in which the dark scenes are a little too dark. Since the film takes place in one location, the lack of sufficient lighting makes it all feel a bit claustrophobic. The Dolby 5.1 Surround has a tendency to sound muffled and garbling some dialogue, which only adds to that confined feeling. Bonnus include a behind-the-scenes look at the production and the film’s trailer.
The Machine is far from horrible. It just happens to be completely forgettable. Considering they only had five weeks to shoot the film, and a budget so small they had to watch how many bullets were used, it actually turned out fairly decent.
This Jury is hopelessly Hung.