Robots used to be cool. We used to see them as our potential pool of willing programmable workers, servicing every need from the most menial to the more "kinky" within our 21st century society. Sure, there was the rogue mechanical man, someone who would turn on his master without remembering Asimov's three infamous "rules". But for every Blade Runner replicant or T-1000 Terminator, there was a Gigolo Joe, or an artificially intelligent little boy named David. With Japan currently making creepy headway into the tenuous territory of manufactured humanity, it's interesting to see how the cinematic case for robots has evolved - and recently, stalled. Instead of being cute, or cruel, today's automatons are all but an afterthought. Clearly, filmmaker David O'Connor wants to change such a perception. His approach - make a movie where a computerized tin man is one part in a regular romantic comedy triangle. While it's not quite Making Mr. Right, Run Robot Run! is a idiosyncratic farce. It more or less works...most of the time.
Kent works for a future company that offers dreams for sale. Button down and rather dull, he lives a mundane, maudlin life. While best friend tech head Garth tries to cheer him up, our hero pines away for fellow worker Allison. She thinks he's nice, but rather stuck in his rutty ways. Into their lives walks Adam, the latest humanoid prototype ready to replace the harried human employee - and guess who gets demoted. Naturally, Kent is fuming. Adam has his office, his fancy formfitting chair - he's even captured the eye of his designated dream gal. When Garth finds the robot's owners manual, Kent discovers a way to destroy his newfound rival once and for all. If an automaton ever discovers it is a machine, and not a red-blooded human, it will blow several circuits and sort of self-destruct. In order to win Allison back and regain his position in the firm, our hero will do everything he can to make Adam realize he's not real. As usual, such a strategy will be easier to execute in theory than in practice.
Run Robot Run! is the kind of movie critics hate. No, not in a dismissive, "thumbs down" kind of way. Movies that leave you breathless, or belligerent, are easy to write about. Adoration and aggravation each produce strong reactions, and therefore, fodder for a few hundred DVD review words. But those films that flail about in the middle, that offer brilliant ideas soaked in cinematically mediocre trappings really burn one's booty. They become loggerheads in one's already crammed full cranium, stopgaps preventing clear thought and, thereby, precise critical analysis. As they meander about the brainpan, striking chords both pro and con, clarity goes bye-bye. Instead, a wealth of possibilities pile on, each one arguing for their own analytical importance. If one had to attempt a focused response, a way of boiling down this broth into a shippable brew, this would be a semi-successful try: Run Robot Run! is an inventive, if ultimately uneventful effort. It has a lot to support its sly indie quirk. It's also far too forced to leave much of a lasting impact.
This is a movie that begins and ends sharply, that sets up its premise and pays off its plot points expertly. If we were only grading films by their pro- and epilogues, we'd have a real winner here. But writer/director/producer Daniel O'Connor fails to flesh out his concepts beyond the intro and outro. You know you're in trouble when montages, not meaningful conversation, make up most of your middle act. Once Kent sees that he will have to work twice as hard - and smart - to destroy his automaton nemesis, O'Connor relies on our caring for the characters to cart us along. Sadly, he's done only a so-so job of setting up Kent, Garth, and Allison as people we'd like to pull for. They are all so remote, so much a part of a insular sci-fi ideal where the future looks just like today, except with techno-dork buzzwords blowing around to amplify its speculative nature. This in-between section is not very funny, rarely inventive, and highly indicative of a regular romantic comedy where our hero does something stupid to try and win over the gal who probably doesn't give a crap to begin with. Frankly, we expect more, especially with robots added to the mix.
Once we get beyond the droning denouement, when Kent succeeds in getting Adam to self-destruct, Run Robot Run! almost loses its way. But then O'Connor gets the brilliant idea of bringing the man machine back as a kind of Henry Higgins to our lead's lame geek Eliza. The final 15 minutes, with Kent changing his entire personality, works better than most of the material before. Even better, the story slides into areas both tricky and unusual, forging its way toward a climax that the "Super Birthday Snake" episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force would be proud of. For the most part, the acting is of nominal concern, Chris Gibbs, Lara Kelly, Christian Potenza, and Peter Mooney all adequate as Kent, Allison, Garth, and Adam respectively. O'Connor keeps most of the performances in check, never allowing the material to move sloppily into slapstick or farce. The production itself is polished and quite professional, considering what has to be a very low budget approach to such outsized ideas. It's just too bad then that Run Robot Run! loses so much steam before finishing so strong. It really does raise a clear critical impasse.
Pathfinder puts out this title within the standard digital tech specs. The DVD offers a 1.78:1 non-anamorphic image (why no automatic 16x9 is a mystery, especially in this day and age) that's colorful, bright, and loaded with detail. The movie was made in Canada and the grays of the Northern Sky are mirrored by the crisp clean lines of the equally drab office setting. There are no real F/X to speak of, though there are a few clever computer screens that deliver a kind of Photoshopped sense of the upcoming eons. All letterboxing aside, this is a good looking film.
Similar to the standard optical elements, the Run Robot Run! DVD provides limited aural enjoyment. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is decent and decisive, mixing both the dialogue and the occasionally dopey soundtrack score together well. There's no interference from ambient noise and the conversations are always clear as a bell.
Buried in the Set-Up section of the menu is the best bit of added content for the entire DVD package. Writer/Director Daniel O'Connor is present along with co-stars Chris Gibbs and Christian Potenza, and they make for a laid back, likeable group of commentators. We learn about the various ideas kicked around for he project, the significance of the "large supersized items" used during the bar scenes, and how the locations led to some last minute inspirations. It's a great track and much better than the rest of the bonus features. Indeed, the four deleted scenes deserve their editorial fate, and the trailer tells way too much of the plot to be a proper preview. Pathfinder also places several other advertisements for other available product on the disc. Unless you're interested in these off-brand titles, these additional sneak peeks will mean nothing to you.
From the raves reprinted on the cover art, you'd swear this movie was the 2001 of robot RomComs - and for most of its running time, it is an enjoyable exercise in future shock satire. But Run Robot Run! is far from perfect. It's just not sharp enough, aiming for the broad when a much narrower focus would be just fine. As a result, it earns an uneasy Recommended rating. The final 15 minutes will make you laugh, smile, and think. The initial 20 or so will provide a prescient introduction to this generic utopia. That just leave another 50 minutes or so to kill, and it's here where Daniel O'Connor stumbles. Undermining a robot's sense of self should be a lot funnier, a lot more inventive, and a heck of a lot more compelling than the slapdash approach taken here. Like the age old argument over the glass being half empty or half full, Run Robot Run! is either a good movie with some horrible flaws, or a bad film saved by a few excellent aspects. That's about as close as a critical consensus this movie can manage.