Movie Review: “Automata” is a good-looking, empty-headed Spanish-made “Blade Runner” knockoff

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“Automata” is yet another “Blade Runner” knock-off, a sci-fi dystopia about robots getting too smart for humanity’s own good on an already sun-cooked Earth.
The novelty in this, which owes as much — cinematically — to “I Robot” as it does the rainy perpetual darkness of “Blade Runner,” is that the robots are actual gadgets instead of animated characters. The humans are interacting with, shooting and flirting with tactile, metal things with gears and servos that aren’t covered up with human skin.
Jacq (Antonio Banderas) is a claims adjuster/trouble shooter for a robotics corporation. It is 2044, and the human race has been reduced to a few million, planet Earth having been baked and irradiated by a misfiring sun. The robots, “Pilgrims,” were first needed to build all the shields to keep out the sunlight and radiation, to stop the deserts from spreading further. Humanity has retreated to cities and grown utterly dependent on them.
Fine, so long as robots obey their two protocols. They can harm no life. They cannot alter themselves or other robots. Simple, right?
People try to scam their warranties, looking for payouts. Jacq checks out the robots to ensure that they haven’t broken those two rules — one grabs a knife to keep Jacq from stabbing himself.
“Stop! Sir! You are putting a human life in danger!”
But he spies evidence that somebody or something is violating that second protocol. Jacq is “burnt out.” He is married with a baby on the way. But the boss (Robert Forster) wants to get to the bottom of these “altered” automata.
Dylan McDermott plays a seemingly psychotic cop who shoots any robot that gives a hint that it’s not quite right. Melanie Griffith — Mrs. Banderas, until recently — plays a “clock maker” (robot tinkerer) who builds sexual escort robots that look like Melanie Griffith.
The automata themselves have a familiar design. They have the functional, flat metal faces of the robot in the animated “Iron Giant.” Except for the ones who look like Melanie Griffith. None of them, alas, have enough humanity to them to make us care if some of them are acting more human.
“To die, you have to be alive first.”
The production design here is mostly deserts and a city with huge, anti-radiation balloons hanging over it, cheap clear-plastic raincoats and the scavenged/repaired cars and trucks of a world no longer designing new ones. Banderas gamely slogs through this story fully aware that it’s not really about the acting. McDermott is the only player who makes an impression.
Co-writer/director Gabe Ibáñez steals from good films, but doesn’t add much to their themes or content. The only viewers who aren’t 45 minutes or more ahead of this tedious affair are the ones skipped the 30-plus years of science fiction films that it is built from.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sexual content
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Robert Forster
Credits: Directed by Gabe Ibáñez, screenplay by Gabe Ibanez, Igor Legarreta and Javier Sánchez Donate. A Millennium release.
Running time: 1:50

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