Man’s unhealthy relationship with technology takes a sinister turn in Wally Pfister’s ham-fisted sci-fi thriller, which imagines the consequences of an artificial intelligence running amok in the digital realm.
The high-brow concept of Jack Paglen’s undernourished script is at odds with the whizz-bang pyrotechnics that director Pfister is asked to deliver in the muddled second act, ultimately starving the film of jeopardy.
Characters are poorly developed and the line between the supposedly evil computer and valiant human rebels is blurred to the point that we couldn’t care less if our entire species is wiped out. Total oblivion would be sweeter than another 20 minutes spent in the company of a morose Johnny Depp and his co-stars.
Transcendence begins promisingly, setting out a utopian vision of cutting-edge technology to heal the planet and eradicate disease.
Once radioactive isotopes are coursing through the central character’s bloodstream, screenwriter Paglen struggles to sustain dramatic momentum and the final hour unfolds at a pedestrian pace that makes the running time seem closer to three hours than two. Depp’s lifeless performance suggests a robotic doppelganger was hired to take his place while Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany are tortured and tearful, wrestling with murky questions of morality that seem beyond the film’s flimsy grasp.
If the end point - a world starved of electricity and gadgets - halts screenings of Pfister’s film then perhaps there is method in RIFT’s muddled madness.