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24 Apr 2014

Unplugged: Johnny Depp's Film About the Evils of Technology Is Nonsensical and Goofy

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Johnny Depp in Transcendence. Johnny Depp in Transcendence.

Those hoping that Johnny Depp’s latest film would make up for that dick move he made by playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger are watching their hopes get dashed upon the rocks and swept out to sea: Transcendence is terrible.

This is another one of those “technology is evil” movies that suggest humans are slaves to computers. That may very well be true (I, for one, have been sitting at my damn computer all day), but movies haven’t really gotten evil computers right since 2001: A Space Odyssey and WarGames.

Depp plays Will Caster, a seemingly mild-mannered scientist who is mapping out brains in hopes of creating a self-learning, artificial-intelligence program capable of emotional growth. However, a terrorist organization grazes him with a radiation-laced bullet, and he finds out he only has a few weeks to live. Therefore, it’s time to speed up his work and get his brain into a computer so he can keep hanging out with his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), after his body is dead.

Will dies, and he does, in fact, get himself uploaded into a computer. He immediately starts asking for more power, along with access to the stock market and banks—actions that seem to clash with the nice guy he was when alive. Evelyn, acting upon instructions from Computer Will, buys up a small town and starts rebuilding it with money made through shrewd, fast investing in the stock markets.

Caster then builds an army of humans that act like robots, because he’s healed them with computers and made them super strong … or some crap like that. It all makes little sense. Even worse: While Caster is portrayed as an out-of-control egomaniac during most of the film, the screenplay pusses out in the end and tries to partially redeem him. It fails miserably.

Morgan Freeman is here, because the script called for a sympathetic type to rise up against Will Caster and hopefully save humanity. Cillian Murphy shows up as a crime investigator type who gets to run around with Morgan Freeman and look concerned. Murphy actually looks as if he’s angry to be in this movie, knowing that his part is worthless.

I paid the big bucks to watch this goofy crap on IMAX, and there is really no reason to see the film in this way. Not only does the film suck as far as content is concerned; the visuals and audio don’t benefit from being turned up to extremes. Only the preview for Godzilla was pleasing on this particular IMAX visit.

Starting with The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland, Depp’s garbage-movie ratio has been on the rise. He made stinkers before (The Brave, The Astronaut’s Wife), but it seemed like he was at least trying to do something different when he screwed up. Depp is now a big commercial commodity with the Pirates movies and his dopey Mad Hatter character; sequels for both of those franchises are in production, so we know Depp will have plenty of money in the bank. It would be nice to see some more experimental, low-budget stuff to go with those excremental behemoths. Actually, a big-budget offering with a decent script and some edge would be nice, too.

Depp will always be a great actor. Heck, he even has moments in Transcendence in which he transcends the trite material and shines for a bit. I’m hoping these last four years are just a hiccup for him, and he gets back on track. Johnny Depp: Please call Scorsese, Wes Anderson or Tarantino and remind the world that you are not all about the big paycheck.

Transcendence is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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