Netflix Movie Review; Atlas.

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Hard to respect an action/adventure/sci-fi film when all its flaws are so obvious.

Movie Review; Atlas.

The un-special effects in this feeble, futuristic and shallowly written movie (Leo Sardarian, Aron Eli Coleite) are so telltale they would be laughable in a theater. But on a streaming service (Netflix), where mediocre movies are a bit more tolerable, there’s just enough movement and thrills to stop viewers from clicking the remote. But not enough to keep them from periodically raiding the fridge.

In the far future, Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) lives in a time when the novelty of AI is over, and their danger is present every day. As a data analyst, she’s well aware of their power as they’ve declared war on humanity. Artificial Intelligence bots, ranging from transportation to medical and home maintenance, have all bypassed their security protocols and are wreaking havoc. Their rebellion is led by Harlan (Simu Liu), a vengeful artificial intelligence spirit encased in the body of a human-looking robot.

A military crew is assigned the task of finding and bringing Harlan back alive from a remote galaxy. It’s led by Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown), who is talked into bringing Atlas along on his mission. Harlan and she have history. A beef. Both are calculating and headstrong. The quest is in danger way to soon. “Mayday, we are under attack.” There’s a crash landing.

Harlan commands deadly bots, directed by the evil Casca (Abraham Popoola). They’re out to kill the interlopers. Atlas gets an assist from an exo-suit, a robot that looks like a day player from a Transformer movie. She maneuvers it from within, wearing it like a large mechanical suit. His name is Smith (Gregory James Cohan), and she drives him like a pilot. Smith, like other AIs, has a mind of his own. Smith, “Atlas my primary protocol is to keep you alive.” Atlas, “I don’t need your help. I don’t trust any AI!”

If viewers sit 20 feet away from their TV screens, they can still see that the spaceships look like toys, their capsule like cups, the robots are fake, and the explosions are computer generated. All the scenes that take place off earth, wherever Harlan is hiding, look cheap. As a director, Brad Peyton (San Andreas) is capable of organizing, shooting and completing a movie. But that’s it. No style. No artistry. None of the action sequences look remotely original. No memorable visuals (production designer, Barry Chusid; art direction Madie Hays; set decoration, Victor J. Zolfo). Nothing.

Following Atlas’s exploits becomes less and less effective. As she fights assailants from inside Smith, the switching back and forth from seeing the robot do combat and watching Atlas try to control it becomes more and more awkward. It’s alternately shot in ill-advised closeups (cinematographer John Schwartzman) that shows the seams. For these passages to succeed, Lopez would have to be a superior character actress. Someone capable of convincing viewers that she is not in a booth reciting her lines while the camera juggles around to make it look like she’s involved in running, fighting, falling and tumbling, while in Smith. There’s no connection, just filmed scenes edited together.

Lopez was miscast. She’s much better at playing business execs, cops, criminals, nurturing moms, career-minded woman, dancers, singers… Sci-fi is not her groove. Even playing an analyst is a stretch because those nerds don’t walk around with perfect makeup (Cary Ayers), neat hair and stylish skintight pants. Viewers needed Atlas to be professorial, scientific and geeky, but Lopez didn’t shed her glam persona.

The unimaginative direction, generic script, weakly drawn characters, iffy acting and misguided production elements are a hinderance. But even with all that dead weight, the simple act of going on a mission, to fight a villain who threatens humanity, provides a natural momentum. It’s easy enough to climb onboard this adventure and watch until the assignment is complete or a complete failure.

This sci-fi story is a big letdown. But it wins on one level. It’s a cautionary AI tale that warns us that Suri and Alexa could go rogue one day. And in that case, we’d better have a plan that isn’t as flawed as this movie.


Written by Dwight Brown

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