The relationship between man and machine has been the basis for many science fiction stories over the years. Films like The Terminator and Blade Runner are just a few prime examples of how people and robots either coexist or do battle with one another. The latest sci-fi/thriller Automata is an ambitious foray in the futuristic eye candy genre and sadly, the results are rather lackluster. This is especially disappointing because the cast is comprised of usually reliable and gifted actors. The direction is adequate at best but the premise here feels all too familiar.

Automata is set in 2044, where robots exist in normal society and perform menial tasks. There is the occasional case where these robots manipulate or alter their “bodies”. Instances like this require the attention and expertise of Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance agent for the ROC robotics corporation who is drawn into a dark mystery involving robot manufacturers and robots themselves, who seem to be “evolving.” The deeper Jacq gets into the case, the darker and more twisted things get.

With a slightly complicated plot and a premise echoing many sci-fi adventures before it, Automata is a substandard thriller that offers little to nothing new or innovative. Antonio Banderas does anchor the film well and his performance is actually fun to watch. He plays the unlikely hero very well and his screen time in Automata is a delight. Supporting roles from Dylan McDermott as a shady individual and Robert Forster as one of Jacq’s higher-ups keep things somewhat interesting. The entire cast (even the robots) seems bored, as if they can be in a better movie and they can. Even Banderas’ separated wife Melanie Griffith shows up in a minor role but her performance here is overshadowed by way too much plastic surgery and very little talent.

Director Gabe Ibanez (Hierro, Maquina) is a visionary, I’ll give him that. The futuristic world he has created in Automata is very reminiscent of Blade Runner, parts anyway. There are neon lights and holograms which litter the congested modern Japanese-inspired city streets. Then there are sequences which take place in the desert. Both of these settings are visually impressive and actually almost serve as characters themselves. Ibanez certainly knows how he wants his films to look and Automata is an excellent example of that.

With a flat story and little to appreciate other than Banderas’ performance and Ibanez’s strong visual style, Automata is a huge letdown. The concept of man interacting with machines and the “psychology” of these mechanized creatures is interesting to an extent but the problem lies in originality or lack thereof. Automata is a film-noir thriller set in the future with robots slowly becoming self-aware. That idea is old hat and if a film today tries to revisit that territory, the filmmakers are in for a world of disappointment. Diehard fans of Banderas will get a kick out of the Spaniard’s acting chops and his shaved head. He is actually rather perfect in the heroic role. It’s just a shame that he didn’t have a better script to work with.

Audiences might eat up this uninspired sci-fi drivel because it is material they’ve seen before and want to see again but the fact remains that it is just another futuristic adventure devoid of any artistic merit, looking to do nothing more than make a quick buck.

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