It's sad that "Transcendence," a movie about artificial intelligence, isn't smarter. With a plot that looks like a prequel to the apocalyptic world of the NBC series "Revolution" and a love story that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "computer dating," this cautionary tale ends up being a few bytes short of a download.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the leading mind when it comes to the development of artificial intelligence. When he's fatally attacked by a radical organization that thinks creating AI is playing God, Caster's mind is transferred into a computer. Caster uses his new electronic existence to begin building a brave new world while trying to maintain a connection to his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall).
Depp has become a victim of his own success. He's so good at the physical transformations he makes to play characters like Capt. Jack Sparrow or the Mad Hatter that in this film he comes across as uncomfortable and stiff in portraying a character that is physically similar to himself.
It gets even worse as the majority of the time Depp is shown as an image on a computer screen. It's like watching a Skype version of his performance. Even the computer HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey" is more interesting than Depp's computer character.
This electronic version of Depp also creates a disconnect with Hall, who struggles to create a human connection with Depp's character. This means that even if the love story was the selling point, it fails and needs a complete reboot.
Another problem, director Wally Pfister commits an extremely stupid move by starting the film with scenes from the movie's end. Once an audience knows where a story is going, that effectively kills most of the tension. The big question posed already has an answer.
And equally as troubling is the script by Jack Paglen. There are times when the story suggests this new man/machine intelligence is the smartest thing on the planet. Yet Caster makes dumb mistakes. In one sequence, when there's an assault to stop him, he admits he knows an attack is coming but waits until the explosions start to stop the attackers. The only logical reason for this is to give a rather sleepy movie at least one big action scene.
Big plot points are ignored. Paul Bettany plays the best friend and scientific partner to Caster, who gets kidnapped by the radical group. He's held captive for two years, but no one seems to care.
The script feels like a poorly formed tale with bits of "Frankenstein," "Terminator" and "Revolution" linked loosely together to act as a plot. It doesn't help that Depp's performance comes across as distant, Hall's work lacks depth, Pfister's direction is lackluster and Paglen's script has all of the originality of an ingredients list on a box of cereal.
"Transcendence" just does not compute.
"Transcendence," rated PG-13 for violence, language. Stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany. Directed by Wally Pfister. Running time: 119 minutes. Grade: D