In a future where robots are disposable workhorses banned for public consumption, womanizer Charles and gold digger Elaine bends the law by having robot surrogates live out the daily grind. Their scheme suddenly falls apart when their robot versions fall in love and break away from servitude in the high-concept comedy Robots.
Modern comedies’ homogenization towards safe and conventional aesthetics makes a feature like Robots a fascinating proposal. Based on Robert Sheckley’s The Robot Who Loved Me, the film presents itself as a comedic rumination on our timeless over-reliance on technology. But, in execution, Robots short-circuits in an inert offering that consistently settles for mediocrity.
There is a husk of a fruitful feature here. The writer/director team of Anthony Hines, the co-writer of Borat, and Casper Christensen get off to a strong start. They cleverly lean into the absurdity of our modern zeitgeist, making humorous barbs at red-wave politics and humanity disintegrating around an environment of artificial technology. Even our protagonists, Charles and Elaine, are introduced as decidedly unlikable byproducts of the technology wave. Both come off as slothful figures who use their robot counterparts as a crux to cocoon themselves in luxuries and gratification instead of engaging with life’s complicated realities. The cynical opening frames were a refreshing delight, showcasing a sardonic perspective that opened the door for thoughtful opportunities.
Once the plot kicks into gear, though, Robots programming spirals into a decidedly different avenue, and it’s all the worse for it. Hines and Christensen embrace the commonplace romantic comedy template – a choice that coats once-observant material with a saccharine syrup devoid of perspective. Audiences can practically set their watch for when each plot contrivance and forced bonding moment will occur. It’s a shame because the actors suffer the most from this choice. Jack Whitehall revels in playing charismatically cocksure characters, and Shailene Woodley sharpens her typically bubbly persona in a charming, against-type performance. Unfortunately, once the film forces both on a crash course toward love, their once-bitting banter evolves into a dull and unconvincing romance.
The overwhelming lack of creativity is felt throughout Robots. Hines and Christensen ride off the fumes of a one-joke approach to the robot premise. Instead of capitalizing on their topical subject, the writers primarily settle for vulgar pratfalls, seemingly rummaging through a bin of played-out comedic setpieces that land meager laughs (half the jokes involve robots in sexual situations). The duo’s directorial effort is similarly voiceless. Every frame feels half-heartedly composed, showcasing the same lifeless lighting and thoughtless imagery without striving for any actual craft. To the duo’s credit, it’s hard to make a visually compelling feature where the budgetary restrictions are glaring in every scene.
Robots promising satire start derails into rom-com mushiness. There are sparks where the film shines bright, but the end product feels oddly detached from what it sets out to achieve.
Robots is now playing in theaters and on Video on Demand services.
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