A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

(2001) *** 1/2 Pg-13
145 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas.

On the Hollywood scene, Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has already been branded a failure where it really counts: at the box office. Such woes seem inevitable for a film that awkwardly weds the concepts of dark genius Stanley Kubrick to the confused moralistic and squishy sentiment of Spielberg. Emboldened by the late Kubrick's assertion that Spielberg was probably best suited to direct A.I., but humbled in deference to Kubrick's own filmmaking genius, Spielberg accepted the invitation of Kubrick's intimates to finish the decades of work Kubrick started, putting Kubrick's production design work, scribbled ideas, and massive story treatment into service of a vision that is often skewed to Spielberg's sensibility of tone and feeling.

Spielberg weds "flat fact" with "fairy tale" to create an uneasy pastiche of famous fables, with nods to "Hansel and Gretel," The Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, Frankenstein and, less comfortably, recent films such as Blade Runner, The Abyss and (yipes) Bicentennial Man. Haley Joel Osment is astonishingly good as the robot boy David, carrying the picture almost single-handedly. Jude Law eventually turns up as a sort of Tin Man companion, a "lover mecha" named Gigolo Joe. As good as Law is, his part has clearly been whittled down, so the focus remains squarely on Osment.

David's episodic odyssey has wild mood swings: Spielberg insists on adding warm humor to the cold creepiness of the first act in David's family home, and John Williams alternately scores the picture as a "weepie" and, in short bursts, as a kinetic, Schwarzeneggerian action flick. The result is one of those pictures that feels, in hindsight, like a flipbook of storyboards and production drawings. But while in Spielberg's grip--despite a fumble or two--you're likely to go with it. A.I. can be spellbinding for much of it's nearly 3-hour running time, even if the ultimate resolution feels false in many respects (including, for the only time in the film, questionable special effects), finally choosing Spielberg's "fairy tale" over Kubrick's "flat fact."

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