An incredibly ambitious (if not always successful) sci-fi effort, Artificial Intelligence: AI follows a highly-advanced robot child (Haley Joel Osment’s David) as he’s abandoned by his adoptive parents (Frances O’Connor’s Monica and Sam Robards’ Henry) and left to fend for himself – with the narrative detailing the decidedly epic journey David embarks upon to transform himself into a human boy. There’s little doubt that Artificial Intelligence: AI improves steadily as it progresses, as writer/director Steven Spielberg delivers an exposition-heavy opening stretch that’s intriguing, admittedly, yet not exactly as enthralling as one might’ve hoped – with the movie nevertheless benefiting heavily from its strong performances and impressively-conceived futuristic landscape (ie it feels plausible without crossing the line into ludicrous). The erratic first act, devoted to David’s ill-fated stay with Monica and Sam (and their “organic” son), eventually does give way to an unexpectedly gripping midsection littered with electrifying images and sequences, with, especially, David’s jaunt through a robot-killing “flesh fair” and hedonistic, adults-only city boasting a seriously propulsive feel and jaw-dropping visuals – with this stretch, which is clearly the movie’s high-water mark, as purely captivating as anything within Spielberg’s erratic body of work. And although the movie stumbles quite badly in its third act – ie there reaches a point at which the story could (and should) end and yet Spielberg can’t resist concluding the proceedings with an overly sentimental coda – Artificial Intelligence: AI is nevertheless an impressive piece of work that’s aged surprisingly well in the years since its 2001 release.
*** out of ****