opens with onscreen text explaining the future 30 years from now. Solar storms
have turned the Earth into a radioactive desert, killing 98% of the population
in the process. As a result, the ROC company created “primitive robots to help
build the walls and mechanical clouds that protect the humans.” There are
millions of robots, all of which are controlled by two protocols: they cannot
harm any form of life and they can neither repair themselves nor alter another
robot in any fashion. “These rules are unalterable,” the screen says in boldface.
Of course, this is not a true statement.
fiction is often used in allegorical fashion. It may not be fair to judge “Automata”
by this gauge, but the film is so deathly somber and heavy-handed that I can
only assume director Gabe Ibáñez wanted to tell us Something Important. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that is. The score by Zacarías
M. de la Riva features choral voices singing melancholy notes while scenes one cannot
take seriously flash before our eyes. The disconnect is akin to having the
Harlem Boys Choir score from “Glory” paired with a Wayans Brothers movie. No
film featuring a sex robot should pretend it has the gravitas level of a Morgan
Freeman narration. It should at least be fun, which “Automata” is most
More on the
sex robot later; she’s an integral part of what passes for the plot. “Automata”
begins with Dylan McDermott discovering a robot violating the second protocol—the
one about self-repair. McDermott shoots it in the head, damaging the one part
of the robot that might explain why it has suddenly violated an “unalterable”
rule. A lot of robots get shot in this movie, and not one of them remotely attempts
to violate the first protocol—the one about harming people. Ibáñez takes great
pleasure in showing these low-budget, inanimate objects slowly dismembered by
gunfire. Hitting their off switches would be just as effective, but “Automata”
needs some kind of action to keep the audience involved.
is so adamant about shoving in as many sci-fi tropes as possible, it fails to
cohere into anything that makes narrative sense. The visuals owe massive debts
to “Blade Runner” and the “Mad Max” movies. In addition to unwisely evoking
memories of both, “Automata” throws in a shadowy corporation, an apocalyptic
future, dangerous radioactivity, robots who become self-aware, scientific
mumbo-jumbo and the end of civilization. Into it all, an insurance adjuster
shall lead us.
adjuster, Jacq Vauchan, is played by a bald, suitably apocalyptic looking
Antonio Banderas. Vauchan has grown weary of trudging through hazardous rainfall
to deal with customers of ROC. We first meet him as he’s investigating a robot
accused of murdering the family dog by brushing its fur to death. The robot is
innocent. Vauchan decides he’s getting too old for this you-know-what.
to move his pregnant wife, Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), from the brutal
inner city to a beachside resort he keeps seeing in childhood flashbacks.
Rachel thinks he’s crazy, and so do we once we realize the seaside is far more irradiated.
Rachel exists solely to perform damsel-in-distress duty during the climax,
where the villains drag her and her newborn baby into an extremely radioactive desert
for no logical reason whatsoever.
happens, ROC sends Rachel’s hubby to an expert to determine what caused the
robot Wallace shot in the opening scene to gain knowledge of itself. The
expert, Dr. Dupre (Melanie Griffith), is skeptical about robots having protocol
violating capabilities, despite the fact that she also runs a brothel whose
S&M robots kinda violate their first protocol. “I specialize in pleasure
and pain,” Cleo the sex robot tells Vauchan before she’s implanted with the
other robot’s self-aware chip. She also specializes in driving getaway cars,
which comes in handy when two little kids inexplicably shoot Dr. Dupre in the face.
As they head
deeper into the desert to discover the “clocksmith” who’s retooling the robots
minus their second protocol, Cleo becomes Vauchon’s protector. Armed members of
ROC, including McDermott and a game Robert Forster, follow them with the intent
to destroy both the robots and their colleague. More robots get shot, and in
the film’s one true moment of excitement, somebody gets blown away with a flare
newfound intelligence, Cleo’s appearance (she’s practically naked and has two large round
circles that pass for a booty) and her voice (provided by Griffith) never let
us forget her original function. She may be able to repair herself and is smart
enough to help build a highly intelligent giant robotic cockroach, but she’s
still reduced to moaning hilariously when sensing male arousal. You’ll be
sinking in your seat as a drunk Vauchan contemplates Cleo’s services. At least
the sad choir is wise enough not to sing over this sequence.
giant, super-evolved robotic cucaracha: I think it may hold the key to “Automata”’s
allegory. If nothing else, it’s where all roads lead. Armed with that detail,
you now know if you want to sit through this film. Personally, if I were you, I’d
bypass it for a double feature of “Cherry 2000” and “Runaway.” You’ll get your
fill of sex robots and killer robot roaches, with none of the dreary seriousness
and overstuffed plot of “Automata”. The quality will be about the same.