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"The Machine" Review

With Neill Blomkamp's Chappie bombing critically and at the box office, it seems like the old trope of sentient robots is in a slump. (Not really. Just bad movies.) While poking around Netflix I noticed The Machine (super awesome creative title, no?) starring Caity Lotz, who is Sara/Black Canary on Arrow. Listed as being about how the British Ministry of Defence (note Brit spelling) steals the first self-aware cyborg and trains it to be a killer, it sure sounds like Chappie, but with a cute girl. Because reasons.

In a dark and rainy future (because of course), we open with a scene where a horribly wounded soldier whose brain injuries (a third of his head is missing) have been treated with cybernetic implants. What appears to be a medical miracle quickly goes very wrong and much blood is spilled.

The scientist behind the science (Toby Stephens) recovers and is next seen running Turing tests on AI candidates including a supposedly promising one created by Ava (Lotz). He hires her and they work on the program and he scans her face and brain which comes in handy when she's murdered by Chinese agents. (I guess England didn't get the memo that it's not allowed to portray China in a bad light because money.) They create a robot duplicate of Ava (right down to the boobs, which someone remarks on) and plop in the doctor's quantum computer brain with Ava's AI.

Despite the scans, the Machine (as they address it) isn't Ava, but the usual sci-fi trope of a childlike naif of an innocent soul in an uber-strong murder machine body. Of course the military wants to make a weapon out of her. Of course the Machine develops feelings for the doctor. Of course something is going on with the other wounded soldiers with implants who despite supposedly having mysteriously lost their ability for speech are clandestinely communicating with each other in a garbled electronic tone. Of course.

It's all quite familiar and thus dull. I have to believe that the review quotes praising this movie are from tubby nerdgins who are just happy to see glimpses of shadowy female pseudo-nudity because for all the pretensions of depth pondering on the premise of a thinking, feeling machine, it's been done a zillion times before in films like Ghost in the Machine and, of course, Blade Runner. The subplot about the doctor's sick daughter doesn't make sense either; how does AI cure her and is he hoping to transfer her broken consciousness into a robot chasis?

Clearly a low budget movie, the makers definitely get the money on the screen where it counts with some impressive visual effects, especially when Machine glows from within (glimpsed in the trailer which makes it look more an action movie than it really is). Lotz, who was a mixed bag on Arrow, is good here, adequately portraying the narrowly constructed role of child-intellect-in-dancer-body. If you're a fan of her Arrow, you may find The Machine mildly diverting, but overall there's not much ghost (soul) in this machine.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.


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