Hollywood Postulate: Fuse the creative genius of two successful filmmakers and the resulting product's appeal, intrigue, and bankability will double (no matter how incompatible they actually are). It is not surprising that Steven Spielberg figured a great film could be shaped by mixing his whimsical story-telling with one of Stanley Kubrick's nightmarish tales: A Clockwork E.T., a bad idea.
At the heart of A.I. is a dark story where humans experiment with our most precious emotion--love--by torturing a robot boy who is programmed to love eternally. It's a rather twisted story that may cause the audience to gasp in horror and simultaneously question not only their own mortality, but also the meaning of love. In the hands of Spielberg, we are not prompted to answer such questions. Instead we spend 145 minutes on a quest that goes nowhere and asks, over and over again, "Where's Mommy?"
The setting is the future, long after oceans have risen from the effects of global warming. To accommodate for a smaller, wetter planet, limits are placed on reproduction. Monica (Frances O'Connor) gives birth to a son named Martin, who becomes ill and is cryogenically frozen, with a near zero percent chance of recovery (cheap foreshadowing).
Enter Professor Hobby (William Hurt). Hobby has developed a prototype boy mecha (a.k.a. a robot) that can be programmed to love. He offers Monica the opportunity to test-market the mecha boy. After she agrees to parent David (Haley Joel Osment), Monica imprints the boy with love for her. Martin awakens from his coma (surprise!) and makes life hell for little David. He tortures David and shares the story of Pinocchio, which David mistakes for a real-life story. Actually A.I. is little more than a mixture of Pinocchio and Frankenstein--a Spielberg-meets Kubrick-combination--and a bad combination at that.
After a series of mix-ups, Monica is forced to return David to the robo-factory for destruction. However, Monica suffers a change of heart and releases David, securing the promise that he will never return. The film then outlines David's mission to locate the Blue Fairy from the Pinocchio fable, who helped Gepetto's wooden doll become a real boy.
Along the way David befriends Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a mecha programmed to provide human females with ultimate sexual experiences. Now that's a program! Law's meticulous performance captivates. His mechanical movements, vocal inflection and unique makeup steal our attention away from David, the beautiful sets and the dazzling effects. Joe and David travel in search of the Blue Fairy--to David she is hope, to Joe she's another dame he can seduce, to the audience she's a flimsy plot-device that we expect will culminate in an inappropriate and ridiculous finale. Unfortunately, only Joe's expectations remain unfulfilled.
After encountering the disembodied-but-still-obnoxious voice of Dr. Know (Robin Williams), the duo heads to Manhattan to complete their quest. Until this point the story line falls somewhere between thoughtful and entertaining, but it soon tumbles past boring, almost to insipidly exasperating. There are three different scenes at which the movie could have ended satisfactorily--with a sad, little David learning the cruel nature of humanity--a Kubrick-style ending evoking ponderous thought. But this is a Spielberg movie, so we are treated to a Spielberg ending--a happy one that transports us from Manhattan to the bottom of the ocean to 2,000 years further into the future. By the time the film does end, we feel 2,000 years older. And instead of pondering the life-changing questions that A.I. could have raised, we ponder why we didn't walk out of the movie 45 minutes earlier.