Movie Review: Hot Androids go Rogue — again — “Simulant”

“Simulant,” the latest slice of cautionary sci-fi about “sexy replicants/androids/’simulants'” developing minds of their own points to one solution worth tossing into the current debate over the many forms and faces of AI — artificial intelligence.

Make a rule that the robots can’t be good looking. Sure, that’ll irk the sex toy industry. But with humanity’s fate in the balance, can we really afford increasingly “sentient” AI that looks like Sean Young, Rutger Hauer or Darryl Hannah in “Blade Runner,” Olivia Wilde in “Tron” or Alicia Sanz in “Simulant?”

This Canadian production may resemble a snowy, sunnier “Blade Runner” in almost every important regard. But they call their ever-improving, each model more “human” than the last androids “Simulants,” not “Replicants.” So there’s that.

This under-regulated corporation is rolling out its humanoid robot “servants” and assuring the world that its four “precepts” will save humanity from the great android uprising that we know is coming.

Nexxera’s simulants can’t “inflict harm on any human,” cannot “modify themselves,” must never “break the law” and simply have to “obey all commands from their masters.”

I feel safer already. The residents of unnamed FutureCity (Hamilton, Ontario) aren’t convinced.

Sam Worthington plays Kessler, an AI Code Enforement officer who tracks down “unregulated” simulants, wherever they may be. He’s got a pistol-shaped scanner to determine proof-of-life or “robot.” And when this one attractive quarry (Sanz, of “The Devil Below” and TV’s “El Cid” and “Now and Then”) knocks him around with superhuman ease, and then sprints off, he whips out his electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) rifle to disable every simulant within range so he can catch and detain her.

Something’s going on with these gadgets, which are showing “empathy” and as with the one that attacked Kessler, the ability to “assault a civilian with intent.”

Might it relate to that ex-Nexxara engineer who just happened to live across the hall from the sim that Kessler just collared? He’s played by Simu Liu of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings,” whose name could have inspired the new label for androids in this movie, but probably didn’t.

Meanwhile, there’s this very attractive couple (Jordana Brewster, Robbie Arnell) that’s gone through an accident, and now one partner is having nightmares of that crash and wondering if they’re real. We’re meant to wonder “Which one of them comes with a warranty?”

The plot is so “Blade Runner” reliant that it’s perfunctory. And that puts a damper on the performances. At least Liu plays around with charm-masking-self-serving-motives in his turn, but nobody else makes us feel or fear for their fate.

The production design is “futuristic minimalist,” as in there’s little here that doesn’t seem present day. No, this can’t have cost much, even in Canadian dollars.

That’s always a hook in thrillers like this, making us wonder who will turn out to be real and who will be a robot, and which robots won’t realize they’re not human.

Another plot element is the ways the fake humans “learn” to become human — reading Dostoyevsky and Kafka, music, painting, keeping a diary, becoming more self-aware and empathetic until that moment when — often as not — one of them SNAPS.

So the movies are getting at the problem. It’s easy to tell robot from human when we can see seams in the construction material and their “hair” looks like some plastic 3D printed version of Max Headroom’s coiffure.

But when the design team is cranking out new generations of androids and algorythmically selecting the sexiest physical traits, well…there’s your solution. Save us from our AI apocalypse. Stop making androids so doable.

Rating: unrated, violence, sexual content

Cast: Sam Worthington, Jordana Brewster, Simu Liu, Mayko Nguyen, Robbie Arnell and Alicia Sanz

Credits: Directed by April Mullen, scripted by Ryan Christopher Churchill. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:35


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

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