Robots (2023) Review: Artificial intelligence is all the rage in today’s world. Since the news about ChatGPT bringing content to the fingertips of human beings, we haven’t for a moment stopped speculating about the powers of AI and how we should be scared of its growing prowess.
Directed by Casper Christensen and Anthony Hines, Robots (2023) takes this idea of a world powered by AI and uses it to bring two unlikely characters together in love. Is it a great idea? Yes. The screenplay is based on a short story by Robert Sheckley, “The Robot Who Looked Like Me.” The execution, however, drains your interest as soon as you see human-masked robots on the screen and hear about the wall between Mexico and New Mexico in the first few scenes.
The story follows Charles (played by Jack Whitehall), the son of a big-shot suburbanite, who employs an artificial clone of himself to woo the women he meets until they reach the stage where they’d like to take their relationship to the bedroom. On the decided day, Charles (and not his android, C2) shows up to have sex with the woman.
On the other hand, Elaine (played by Shailene Woodley) is a gold digger who goes out with affluent men to have them buy her luxurious objects till they decide to sleep with her. When it comes to sex, Elaine employs her android (E2) for the purpose. Now, of course, Charles and Elaine’s paths cross at an ice-skating rink, and, accidentally, on a fateful night, C2 ends up having sex with E2, eventually realizing that they are starting to fall for each other.
So C2 and E2 are on the run towards Mexico, where robots have equal rights of sustenance as human beings. But on their way, Elaine and Charles must stop their personal androids from avenging their masters. Do Elaine and Charles, in the act of chasing down E2 and C2, going to fall for each other?
I am all for an enemies-to-lovers rom-com, but how do two people with such abject hatred for one another fall in love over a smallish road trip and a night in the woods? Besides, I don’t see even an ounce of chemistry between Whitehall and Woodley. I can fathom the general frustration towards men when Woodley’s character decides to hurl objects at Whitehall’s character at the beginning of the film after they find out about each other’s little dating scheme. But their immediate transition to lovers, because they hit the road together, doesn’t sit right with me.
Most importantly – and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t unsee this – the film makes a joke out of a mass shooting. In one of the scenes, Charles and Elaine realize that their androids are involved in the act of mass shooting to endanger their real-life masters. The only reaction that the two humans can derive from this is that they should be hiding in a cabin in the woods. This is a distasteful plot point, and I don’t see why the filmmakers had to go so far as to show the wrathful, unthinking vengeance of AI.
It is not the first time that filmmakers have tried to introduce the concept of artificial intelligence in a Hollywood movie, and it surely won’t be the last. From The Matrix (1999) to Her (2012), AI characters have helped to introduce a different technological angle and complexity to a movie plot. R2D2, the cute-sounding droid from Star Wars (1977) that characters in this movie keep referring to, especially considering the names of the human androids, brought with it a kind of comic relief that the audience fell for and became a huge fan of. Besides, Black Mirror (2011 – ) has been spooking the audience out about the capabilities of AI for over a decade now.
Unlike all the movies and TV shows I have named above, the androids in Robots (2023) feel gimmicky, like-plastic at best. Considering Woodley and Whitehall themselves get to play these parts, there is little obvious difference between their human and AI roles. As a result, getting invested in an approximately 90 minutes-long rom-com that the chaos unleashed by AI drives becomes difficult with every passing second.
Robots (2023) is playing in theatres across the US and is also available for on-demand streaming.