Movie Guy: Depp's Transcendent Lethargy

There are some intriguing ideas underpinning the new movie, "Transcendence," but those ideas don't get proper consideration in this complete mess of a science fiction film. This is a bad movie that should have gone directly to DVD if it wasn't for the A-list cast involved.

Despite the lofty title, don't expect a transcendent experience from this cinematic clunker.

Johnny Depp stars as a brilliant computer genius. He has been building a supercomputer of sorts when anti-technology terrorists stage an assassination attempt, using radiation-laced bullets, of course. Before he dies, Dr. Caster convinces his wife (Rebecca Hall) and colleague (Paul Bettany) to transfer his consciousness into the computer.

The newly digitized doctor becomes an all-powerful cyber-being. He's suddenly able to use his enhanced computational powers to cure the sick, but also to wreak havoc on the world. A lot of this is pretty difficult to swallow.
Eventually, "Transcendence" becomes just another science fiction nightmare about our loss of humanity in the face of technological advancements. The problem is that none of this ever rings true.

Much of the problem is found in the story, which is so over-plotted that you'll need to take notes just to keep up. The actors have a hard time selling the events up on the screen, especially those who seem to be acting while on autopilot. I'm not sure why Depp, in particular, is so unengaged in this role, but it makes it difficult for an audience to care about a film when the film's big star can't be bothered to put in any effort.

On top of the lifeless acting, former-cinematographer-turned-director, Wally Pfister has trouble managing the rhythm of the film, leaving the plot to spool out at a snail's pace. It's lethargic, uninspiring and unbelievable science fiction that is a huge disappointment given the actors and filmmakers involved.

It really is a shame, given that there are some interesting ideas mixed in among all the mess. If the filmmakers had taken a strong point of view about the conflict between humans and technology, that passion might have elevated the entire film. Instead we get a standard thriller with technological mumbo-jumbo at its core. It's unbelievable, lacks heart and is more than a little pretentious.

1 1/2 stars *1/2