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2015-10-16 08:01

What it's about:

While looking for a place to launch their new video game, Eric Scott and Jason White stumble upon an abandoned warehouse containing a fully functional twenty-year-old artificial intelligence named XJ1. With that warehouse about to be destroyed, the two friends search for a new home for the AI, before settling on uploading "him" to their work network: the highly secure intelligence company named Sky Corp, which happens to be run by Jason's father. What could possibly go wrong?

What we thought:

I've got to be honest: Reconnect is a total bitch of a film to review. Quite aside for the fact that it's always a bit difficult to give a negative review an earnest independent movie, made with the best of intentions – bashing cynical, corpulent product like Transformers 4 is one thing, bashing a highly personal local film is quite another – Reconnect comes with a horribly tragic backstory. Earlier this month, the director of the film, Marius Swanepoel passed away suddenly, shortly after the film received its first public screening in Cape Town. He was, as near as I can tell, in his early thirties. Probably even younger than I am now. Rest in peace, sir.

Before getting into the actual film, therefore, please keep the following disclaimer in mind. This is true of all my reviews and is generally true of most reviewers but considering the nature of what we're dealing with here, I can't think of a better time to restate my "mission statement". The following review is my honest opinion and, though I try to explain my opinions to the best of my abilities, my opinion will never be the final word on any film. I also write every review with the understanding that all movies require a lot of money, time and hard work to make, no matter what I might think of them; no matter how good or bad they may be. I approach every film as a reviewer, not as a filmmaker; I have no intention of ever directing a film and I am not bitter about anyone who has the talent and/or the patience to make films. These are not the ravings of a jealous amateur filmmaker but the ravings of someone who loves film and storytelling in general. Finally, except in the rare case where I know the filmmaker to be a horrible piece of work, even my most scathing reviews should be seen as opinions on the work, not the person.

Got all that? Good, because I thought that Reconnect was unspeakably terrible.

It's a film where the absolute best thing you could say about it, is that there isn't a cynical moment to be found anywhere in its 100-odd minute running time. It's an obviously earnest piece of work with its heart in its right place and though I am genuinely embarrassed for it, I didn't actually hate it. And while I wouldn't recommend this film in a million years, that's really not nothing.

The problem with Reconnect, really, is that it just resolutely refuses to work on any level imaginable. I know that some have lauded the film's AI storyline as something new and fresh for a South African film, and it may well be that, but it's a very pale reflection of dozens of far, far better similar takes on the subject matter. Hell, just a few months ago, one of the year's biggest films dealt with an artificial intelligence going awry (guess which?) - and that was very, very far from being the first film to do so. It wasn't even the first film to do so this decade. Perhaps even this year.

Worse, the way this film deals with its premise is by having interminable and endless sequences of people messing about on their computers in a way that even the actors of Star Trek: The Original Series would probably find utterly unconvincing and hammy – only not all in the fun, campy way that classic Trek handled even its daftest elements. It's all about as much fun as watching someone else playing a game of solitaire, basically, only in this case you can't even see what they're playing!

Speaking of hammy, unconvincing acting, the acting in the film is, without fail, shocking. We have reached a point in Hollywood where even the worst big budget blockbusters feature acting that is, at the very least, basically competent (Taylor Lautner, not withstanding) so it's interesting to see a film where every single performance – including those of apparent "veterans" - is laughably awful. The fact that it features something like fifteen different accents from three different continents doesn't exactly help matters either.

But, of course, you can't entirely blame the actors (though I kind of do anyway) for their cringe-worthy performances because the lines they have to deliver are jaw-dropping in their sheer awfulness. The five (!) writers responsible for the screenplay haven't managed to come up with a halfway decent line of dialogue between the lot of them, even as they utterly fail to construct an even halfway decent plot. And don't even get me started on the characterisation, where parent-child conflicts come literally out of nowhere and our hero gets into a major tiff with his girlfriend after responding in the affirmative to her asking of whether he was seeing anyone, even though he was only referring to his new, artificial best buddy.

Even in terms of basic production values, the film blunders terribly at every turn. Worst of all though, are the offices of Sky Corp, which is supposed to be this major, international company, but the film often gives us a birds-eye view of the place from the top of the stairs and, aside for the two receptionists and maybe one or two people crossing the wide open space of the lobby, the entire place looks entirely desolate.

And, please, don't get me started on the casting of the film's crack IT specialists, who look like they were cast from a Chippendales catalogue! I've been mean enough about this poor film already...

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