|When the biker sitting in front of you sighs, "That was the most depressing movie I've ever seen," you know you've just experienced a downer of epic proportions. Such was the case when we took a three-hour lunch break to see A.I., and we had to concur with the Road Warrior. It's visually stunning, the two central performances are fantastic, and it's definitely food for thought. But be prepared to pop the Prozac when you leave the theater.
A.I. is divided into three acts: "Heartbreaking," "Intriguing Yet Creepy" and "Whuh?" "Heartbreaking" begins with a scientist issuing a challenge: build a "mecha" (mechanical) child that loves. In just twenty months, such a tyke is produced and, as a final beta test, is sent to live with a couple still grieving for their cryogenically suspended son. Long story short: the kid loves the mom unconditionally and obsessively, the parents are creeped out, the son is miraculously cured, somebody's gotta go. The scene where little David (Haley Joel Osment) is abandoned in a forest ranks as one of the most painful we've ever viewed.
Fortunately, we're briefly diverted during "Intriguing Yet Creepy" by the introduction of Gigolo Joe, a sex mecha played with a cocksure swagger by Jude Law (beautiful robotic uber-studs in shiny pants? if this is the future, sign us up!). Joe and David meet when they're rounded up to be destroyed at a "flesh fair," a cross between a Rob Zombie show, a demolition derby and the WWF. Let's see: David's human mom leaves him in the woods like a sofa she couldn't get the vomit smell out of, then an arena of humans delight in the gladiator-style destruction of mechas. Is anyone noticing a theme?
Yes, there's that Kubrick touch. The late Stan may have been quite the humanitarian in person, but on film, he's one misanthropic mofo. You'd think that Steven Spielberg's warm-n-fuzziness would temper Kubrick's harsh vision, but instead the resulting combination is almost unbearable. After listening to his mom read Pinocchio, David believes that if he can become a real boy, she will finally love him. It's an impossibility, a foregone tragedy...very much Kubrick territory. But then Spielberg and Osment make you care about David so much that the fact that he will never be happy is truly wrenching. Spielberg strains for a happy ending, but the denouement of "Whuh?" feels so desperate and contrived that we're not sure it's happy at all.
But aside from that slit-your-wrists feeling, A.I. has the marks of a great film, even if it isn't easy to watch. First off, the special effects are integrated seamlessly into the story. And we knew Osment was good when we saw The Sixth Sense, but in A.I. he's just phenomenal. His emotional range and subtlety, particularly when David's love program is activated, are evident off the bat, but on further reflection, we're almost as impressed with the physical nature of his performance, the precise manner in which David moves, sits, stands, watches. It's easily the best performance we've seen all year.
A.I. will leave you feeling like you've been run through the emotional Cuisinart. Don't bring the kids and don't bring a date unless you're looking for several hours of silence followed by some of that twisted therapy-substitute nookie. Remember: this movie can bum out a biker.