The early scenes of Gabe Ibáñez’s impressively mounted but uneven thriller do some terrific dystopian world-building. At some point in the future, Earth has become a sun-scorched hellhole and robots have taken over most servile tasks, doing domestic chores and building walls to shield city dwellers from the arid outlands. Burned-out insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) looks into cases where androids have been illegally modified, and he’s got a doozy of an assignment (his last, he hopes): a mechanoid conversion that might not have been made by human hands.
For a while it’s fun to just hang with Jacq as he navigates the decrepit metropolis—an astonishing vision of smoky skies, garbage-strewn streets and life-size virtual advertisements that float by apartment windows. Eventually, though, the character takes a forced desert pilgrimage with a group of rogue robots, during which a heavy-handed moral emerges about the limits of man playing God (an ill fit with the story’s pulpier elements). Meanwhile, a grizzled assassin played by Dylan McDermott and a genius doctor rather ludicrously embodied by Melanie Griffith seem beamed in from another, sillier movie than Ibáñez is aiming for. The effort to make thinking man’s sci-fi is admirable, but it requires a steadier, surer hand.
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