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by Peter Sobczynski

"At Last--This Generation's "Lawnmower Man"
1 stars

"Transcendence" is a would-be technological thriller that not only utterly fails to achieve its titular state but cannot even work up the necessary oomph to make it to the level of basic competence. It has a potentially promising premise and a strong cast but both are squandered on an end product that wastes both thanks to clumsy screenwriting, listless acting and a fundamental lack of interest and insight into the issues that it raises and then abandons. Put it this way--if you ever wanted to see what a David Cronenberg movie might be like if all of the quirky, icky and genuinely thought-provoking concepts that make his films so distinctive were kicked to the curb in exchange for a jumbo-sized production budget and a star-studded cast, this is your kind of movie. For everyone else, this is one the kind of dopey potboiler that is all the more frustrating because it clearly thinks that it is smarter and more profound than it really is.

Our tale of what is portentously described in the opening narration as "an unstoppable collision between mankind and technology" begins in Berkley as Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a genius in the field of artificial intelligence, is, with the aid of wife/partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), putting the final touches on a fully sentient computer system known as PINN (Physical Independent Neural Network) that, once fully functioning, will further close the already shrinking gap between man and machine. Oddly enough, some anti-technology groups don't think that this is such a great idea and one, RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), led by Bree (Kate Mara), whose hairdo suggests that her commitment to the cause does not extend to catching the occasional "Game of Thrones" episode, launches a coordinated attack on AI labs across the country that leaves most of their programs in shambles. Will takes a bullet during the chaos but both he and PINN seem to survive relatively unscathed but it turns out that Will's bullet was coated with radiation and he now has maybe a month or so to live.

Evelyn is determined that this not happen and eventually hits upon the idea of uploading Will's consciousness--ideas, memories and the like--into the PINN servers in the hopes of allowing his mind and intellect to survive after his body shuts down. With the aid of fellow scientist Max Waters (Paul Bettany)--who has written about the perils of melding man and machine but who will still do anything for a friend--Will is successfully uploaded and eventually moves on to the Internet. Using his new-found powers, Will amasses enough money for him and Evelyn to purchase a remote town and build a massive research and development center dedicated to changing the world. Unfortunately, his idea of changing the world--including developing his own bioengineered army of followers--leaves much to be desired for the rest of us and the Feds, including Will's mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), are forced to join up with RIFT, who have forcibly recruited Max along the way, to shut him down for good while Evelyn is caught between her love for Will and her growing terror of what she has unsuspecting unleashed on the world.

Although there are plenty of famous names to be had in the credits of "Transcendence," the most notable of the bunch for most moviegoers will be that of Christopher Nolan, the man behind such spectaculars as the "Dark Knight" trilogy, the underrated "The Prestige" and the mind-bending "Inception." However, while his name is as prominent in the advertising as those of Johnny Depp or Morgan Freeman, he only serves here in the capacity of executive producer. From the looks of it, his duties apparently extended only so far as to get his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister his feature directorial debut and to recruit members of his informal road company such as Freeman, Hall and Murphy to fill out the cast. Surely he couldn't have had much to do with the screenplay by first-time writer Jack Paglen because if he had, he presumably would have recognized it to be an unholy amalgam of all those crappy virtual-reality epics from the early 90's like "The Lawnmower Man" laced with a slightly less rapey riff on "The Demon Seed" for good measure. If nothing else, he certainly would have recognized that the script seems to be going out of its way at times to make a botch of things by populating the story with singularly uninteresting characters, throwing in plot developments that make absolutely no sense and inexplicably framing the proceedings in such a way that viewers are basically told everything that is going to happen within the first five minutes. At least I hope that is case because if not, having this film coming hot on the heels of Nolan's previous producing credit, the abysmal "Man of Steel," would suggest that we have a new "Wes Craven Presents" in the making and I think we all know how painful that could be.

Speaking of painful, Johnny Depp turns in one of his least inspired acting jobs in years as the increasingly malevolent Dr. Caster. Some might argue that since the vast majority of his performance is delivered either as a disembodied voice or as a face appearing from various flat-screen monitors, he can't fairly be expected to deliver a full-on performance. That argument might have worked once upon a time but in the wake of Scarlett Johansson's spectacular and complex performance under similar restrictions in "Her" (to which this film plays like a dumber and more ungainly cousin), that defense no longer holds much water. While it is nice to see him without the exaggerated tics that have marked his recent performances, he hasn't bothered to replace them with anything of interest. Similarly, Rebecca Hall, who usually brings a spark or two to even the most mundane films, appears to have been asked to spend the entire film in the same state of bland confusion and therefore never gets to generate much audience sympathy for herself. Since the film tries to play up the doomed romance angle at times, the negligible interest that the two generate, individually and together, leaves a a hole that might have crippled it even everything else in it had actually worked, which it most certainly doesn't.

As with most films directed by one-time cinematographers, "Transcendence" is a good-looking work but in directorial terms, he is far closer to Gordon Willis (whose one stab at directing led to the infamously awful "Windows") than to Haskell Wexler. Despite having access to the kind of resources that most first-time filmmakers could only dream of utilizing, the end result still doesn't work because the story has been presented in such an uninspired manner throughout that not even the aid of a big budget or top stars can help rescue it from utter mediocrity. In the end, "Transcendence" tells a story that tries to warn viewers of how the rampant and unchecked use of technology for technologies sake can lead to an increasingly soulless existence--too bad that the film itself could serve as Exhibit A in that particular argument.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25865&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/17/14 14:28:21
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User Comments

12/07/15 brian Ummm.......huh? 2 stars
7/30/15 Bents made very little sense...was not compelling 2 stars
8/28/14 reptilesni ZZZzzzzzZZZZZzzzzzZZzzzz 1 stars
5/04/14 Shhgulzj Person #3: Do not worry though; the texture will be saved each year. Based on what I did., 5 stars
4/20/14 kuldeep Dhull wat hapnig all 5 stars
4/20/14 kuldeep Dhull I'm actor and not actor 2 stars
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  18-Apr-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-Jul-2014


  DVD: 22-Jul-2014

Directed by
  Wally Pfister

Written by
  Jack Paglen

  Johnny Depp
  Kate Mara
  Morgan Freeman
  Rebecca Hall
  Cillian Murphy
  Paul Bettany

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