JEXI. Writers have been trying to get a handle on the notion of artificial intelligence — giving it an assortment of names, down the decades — for, oh, the better part of two centuries now. (I think it's fair to include Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a very early example and I don't care to debate it with anyone.)
The early 20th century and the subsequent headlong race to the Atomic Age ramped up fictional conjecture on the subject, if not the applied science thereof. Movie technology started to catch up to writerly imagination around the mid-century mark, shortly after which Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) became the longstanding definitive fictional work on the issue. The furor died down for a few decades, perhaps due to growing unrest and entropy within society at large, or maybe everybody just got bored with talking about robots — hard to say which.
Eventually, though, as the prospect of AI subjugating humanity began to loom as a reality, stories started pouring out again, with varying success. Of this more recent crop, Alex Garland's Ex Machina (2014) stands out prominently, as does Spike Jonze's Her (2013), of which Jexi is a pleasant enough, if innocuous hard-R comedy version.
Where the above-cited, 21st century examples excel is in the exploration of humanity's relationship to and reliance on technology, the ragged border joining and separating the two. Examining contemporary loneliness through the lens of synthetic companionship, they manage to speak to the human condition of their moment, even as they move through an imagined near future. Jexi, not so much. This is probably an unfair comparison but I cannot help but think Jexi invites, with its suggestions of modern dependency on technology in lieu of real, intimate connection.
In a brief montage, we witness the truncated growing up of Phil (Adam Devine), who as a child would escape into the limited world of his parents' cellular phones, thereby avoiding the apparently constant verbal combat at home. In adulthood, he has become device dependent, a frustrated journalist writing click-bait top 10 lists for a meritless website. He's alone and probably lonely without realizing it, anesthetized as he is by constant immersion in the internet. When he breaks his phone (his conduit!) and has to replace it, things get weird. The new phone's operating system, Jexi (Rose Byrne) knows Phil from the get-go, insisting that her primary purpose is to improve his life. And at first, she does, emboldening him to try new things, to make friends with co-workers, to talk to the girl at the coffee shop. But Act II has to have a conflict, and so Jexi starts to go Fatal Attraction.
To their credit, writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who share a resume of very lucrative if debatably artistically successful mainstream comedies) keep it light here, folding in enough complicating elements to keep the plot moving, while retaining enough coarse language and dick-pic gags so as to not be accused of pandering. Add to that the near-perfect casting of Devine, Byrne and a solid, though generally under-utilized supporting cast that includes Michael Peña, Ron Funches, Charlene Yi, Wanda Sykes, Alexandra Shipp and Justin Hartley. The result is a comedy better than most, albeit one that suggests a greater narrative depth than it delivers. Also, I find the movie's fixation on Days of Thunder (1990) puzzling. R. 84M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE. I, like everybody else, quite enjoyed Breaking Bad. It surprised me then and now that so many would find so much to like in a tragic anti-hero story about large-scale methamphetamine trafficking. But I guess I just don't give people enough credit.
I found the final radians of the series' arc deeply satisfying, with creator Vince Gilligan and his creative team facing up to the inevitabilities of the narrative into which they had so deeply embroiled Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). The finale, especially its final moments, had a wanton sense of both closure and uncertainty, to me a sublime final note in a gradually building crescendo.
And so I found myself approaching El Camino cautiously, wondering if there was really more story there, if it needed telling. I'm not entirely convinced the answer is yes, but the movie is so well crafted and it feels so good to feel so bad, re-entering the world of the series, that I'll table the question for the time being.
I won't spoil anything but if you haven't watched the show I'm not sure why you're reading this.
El Camino picks up immediately following the closing shot of the series, with Pinkman running for his life from the Nazi pit where he has been imprisoned. We then follow along as he attempts to scrape together some cash to start over, while meditating on the horrific series of events in which he was a key player for so long.
Easily better made and more intelligently written than the majority of movies we'll see in theaters this year, this could probably stand on its own among the uninitiated, but it certainly made me feel compelled to re-watch the series. TVMA. 122M. NETFLIX.
John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH. Globetrotting documentary about how humanity has altered the planet. NR. 87M. MINOR.
BEETLEJUICE (1988). The ghost with the most, baby. PG. 92M. BROADWAY.
JUDY. Late-period biopic about Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) during her 1968 London engagements. Waterproof mascara recommended, kid. PG13. 118M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL. Angelina Jolie is back in the horns to block Aurora's (Elle Fanning) wedding and throw down with Michelle Pfeiffer. With a winged Chiwetel Ejiofor. PG. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MONOS. Colombian drama about a handful of teen soldiers isolated in the mountains with a hostage. Starring Sofia Buenaventura and Moises Arias. R. 102M. MINOR.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. Sequel to the gory comedy-action movie starring Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg. R. 93M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK
ABOMINABLE. A girl (Chloe Bennett) and her friends (Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor) help a yeti with magical powers find its way from Beijing back to the mountains. PG. 97M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
AD ASTRA. James Gray's film about father and son astronauts is an action movie with feeling and intellect exploring loyalty, family, futility and hope, even while a lunar rover chase keeps us on the edge of our seats. Beautifully filmed with Brad Pitt at his best. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Your goth role models return in animated form. Starring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron. PG. 87M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DOWNTON ABBEY. Shhh. There's no Boris Johnson, only Maggie Smith throwing shade and sipping tea. PG. 122M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
GEMINI MAN. Will Smith plays a killer pursued by his younger clone. in this action movie directed by Ang Lee. PG13. 117M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
IT CHAPTER TWO. Despite welcome flashbacks and excellent turns by Bill Hader and the terrifying Bill Skarsgård, the resolution of the Stephen King's clown horror is overloaded with exhausting jump scares and iffy subplotting. R. 169M. BROADWAY.
JOKER. The supervillain gets the sympathetic (but not vindicating) origin story treatment with an excellent and creepy Joaquin Phoenix amid a grimy, brutal Gotham. With Robert DeNiro calling up King of Comedy vibes. R. 121M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
OFFICIAL SECRETS. Keira Knightly and Matthew Good about a the woman who blew the whistle on the intelligence manipulation that led up to the Iraq War. R. 112M. MINIPLEX.
RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS. Documentary about the Texas political journalist and raiser of said hell. NR. 93M. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill