May 18, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Casper Christensen and Art Hines
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2032, in New Mexico and in Mexico, the sci-fi comedy film “Robots” (based on the short-story collection “The Robot Who Looked Like Me”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A Lothario and a female gold digger, who each have illegal look-alike robots that do dirty deeds for them, go on a misadventure together to look for the robots after the robots “go rogue” by falling in love and running away together.
Culture Audience: “Robots” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and fans of the book on which the movie is based, but it’s a silly, boring and predictable movie that is a failure of imagination.
Robots with artificial intelligence could have come up with a better movie than the filmmakers responsible for the drab and unfunny comedy “Robots,” an embarrassing dud that fails to blend sci-fi and romance into an interesting story. It’s hard to believe that anyone who read the dreadful “Robots” screenplay actually thought that this junk was worth getting made. All of the movie’s cast members have the depth and personality of decommissioned robots in their hollow performances.
Written and directed by Casper Christensen and Art Hines, “Robots” is based on Robert Sheckley’s 1978 collection of short stories titled “The Robot Who Looked Like Me.” Viewers of “Robots” might find it hard to believe that Hines is one of the Oscar-nominated writers behind Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit movies, including 2006’s “Borat” and 2020’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” for which Hines received adapted screenplay Oscar nominations. Granted, the prankster movies of Baron Cohen are largely improvised, whereas a movie like “Robots” has a very formulaic script. The difference in the entertainment quality of a movie like “Borat” and a movie like “Robots” is like comparing a satisfying meal to stale garbage.
The opening scene of “Robots,” which takes place mostly in New Mexico in 2032, shows the governor of New Mexico (played by Hank Rogerson) giving a speech in front of a chain-link fence that’s supposed to separate the border of the United States and Mexico. (“Robots” was filmed on location in New Mexico.) The governor has a very small but enthusiastic audience of about 25 people, mostly middled-aged and elderly, who are sitting on folding chairs. It’s a group of right-wingers who hate undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries.
In his speech, the governor (who is obviously supposed to be a Donald Trump-like politician) proudly announces that under his leadership, the wall to keep the “illegals” out has been successfully built, and all the “illegals” have been deported. He also declares that industries that heavily depend on undocumented immigrants no longer need to employ these immigrants, because 10 years ago, the U.S. government created robots to “do the work that illegals once did.” After this speech event, the chairs are folded up and packed away by some of these robots.
Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the two main characters in “Robots”—a man and a woman in their 30s—are rude and selfish humans who own illegally purchased, highly advanced robots that are clones of themselves. In this sci-fi society, legal robots have a human body structure, but their heads look like robots, they sound like robots, and they wear human-looking masks. The advanced illegal robots (which are very high-priced) look, move, and talk exactly like humans in every way, except that the illegal robots do not have real human eyes.
Charles Cameron (played by Jack Whitehall) is a narcissistic ladies’ man who only wants to date women to have sex with them. After Charles gets what he wants, he abruptly dumps the women and cuts off all contact with them. Charles (who is spoiled, lazy and over-privileged) works with his real-estate mogul father Ted Cameron (played by David Grant Wright) at Ted’s company, which is called the Cameron Group.
Charles uses his robot clone, which is called C2, to impersonate Charles at the office, do domestic work for Charles, and go on romantic dates. As shown in “Robots” trailer, Charles also makes C2 shave Charles’ pubic hair in his genital area. The only time that Charles wants to be on a date as himself (and not sending the C2 robot in his place) is when he knows he’ll be having sex on that date.
Meanwhile, Elaine (played by Shailene Woodley) is a high-maintenance gold digger who only dates men who can give her money or buy her high-priced gifts. Elaine makes enough money this way so that she doesn’t need to have a real job. Whereas Charles uses his clone robot to get women to have sex with the real Charles, what Elaine uses her robot for is for the opposite reason: She doesn’t want to be the one to have sex with the men she dates for money, so she has her robot clone (called E2) impersonate her on these dates. Woodley and Whitehall also portray the robot counterparts of Elaine and Charles.
Because these robots are illegal, and owners could get heavy fines and prison time, there are certain precautions that Charles and Elaine have taken for their respective clone robots. The biggest precaution is that Charles and Elaine have told C2 and E2 that they are not allowed to be out in public at the same time as their human counterparts. C2 and E2, who are always accommodating and friendly, know that they are robots who have to be kept secret.
For reasons that are never explained in the movie, Charles has a British accent, while his father Ted and Charles’ half-brother Ted Cameron Jr. (played by Nick Rutherford) have American accents. (Whitehall is British in real life.) It can be presumed that Ted Jr. and Charles have different mothers (these mothers are not seen or mentioned in the movie), and Charles grew up with his mother in England. The movie has a very useless subplot about Ted Jr. and Charles in a sibling rivalry, which is made more competitive because they both work for the family company.
The character of Elaine is a lot less developed than the character of Charles. The movie doesn’t reveal anything about Elaine’s family or what she wants to do with her life, other than spending money that’s given to her by men she dates. “Robots” spends the first 10 to 15 minutes showing how Charles gets women to date him: He goes to a local ice-skating rink and deliberately falls down near an attractive woman whom he thinks will help him get up.
This tactic works for a woman named Emily Denholm (played by Chelsea Edmondson), who begins dating what she thinks is Charles but is actually C2. The only time Emily interacted with the real Charles was when they first met and when Emily and Charles had sex. The movie’s way of making a joke is that the real Charles has very robotic sex that ends too quickly. Predictably, after Charles gets what he wants, he breaks up with Emily.
It’s mentioned in the movie that Charles is secretly heartbroken over a breakup he had with an ex-girlfriend named Francesca (played by Emanuela Postacchini), whom he still keeps track of on her social media. This is a very weak reason for Charles’ awful personality and misogyny, but it’s all just to lay the flimsy groundwork for the rom-com formula of an obnoxious playboy who meets his match and falls for her.
You know where this is going, of course: One day, Charles and Elaine both happen to be skating separately at the ice-skating rink that predatory Charles uses as his hunting ground. Charles deliberately falls down, and Elaine crashes into him. After this “meet cute” moment, Charles and Elaine begin dating, but C2 is the one who is sent on the romantic dates with her. C2 (as Charles) buys Elaine anything she wants.
On the day that Charles is sure that he and Elaine will have sex for the first time, he makes a 6:30 p.m. date with Elaine at her home. It will be the first time that Charles will be going to Elaine’s home. However, not long after this date is set, there’s a scheduling conflict that’s supposed to happen on the same date and time as Charles’ date with Elaine.
Charles’ father Ted tells Charles that Charles is required to attend a company board meeting at the home of an important board member named David Schulman (played by Richard Lippert), who will be meeting Charles for the first time at this meeting. Instead of rescheduling the date with Elaine for another evening, Charles breaks his biggest rule about C2. He decides to send C2 to the board meeting instead, while Charles keeps his date with Elaine.
However, dimwitted Charles accidentally gives C2 the address of Elaine. Unbeknownst to Charles, she has ordered E2 to be on this date that Elaine knows will include sex. Charles finds out he’s at the wrong place when he shows up at the Schulman home with flowers and his genitals out as soon as he goes into a room that he thinks is Elaine’s bedroom. The room is actually a dining room, and the people inside are the people attending the board meeting, including the host and Charles’ father and brother.
Meanwhile, C2 and E2 have sex and instantly fall in love with each other. And even though this conversation is never shown in the movie, C2 and E2 find out how horribly they’ve been treated by their owners, so C2 and E2 decided to run away together to Mexico. Charles and Elaine find out because C2 and E2 left video messages for their owners. Yes, this movie really is that stupid. The rest of “Robots” is about Charles and Elaine on a frantic search to track down C2 and E2, in order to prevent the secret getting out that these two robots exist.
During this wretched and very tedious misadventure, Charles and Elaine turn to the person who sold them C2 and E2 in the first place: a nerdy inventor named Zach (played by Paul Rust), who hastily says to Charles and Elaine that C2 and E2 are starting to take on more human qualities, such as falling in love and having complete freedom of choice. There’s no logical explanation given for why these robots have suddenly taken on more human qualities. Zach says that C2 and E2 have to be destroyed because C2 and E2 could expose Zach, Charles and Elaine for being involved in these illegal robot transactions.
However, Charles and Elaine don’t like the idea of destroying C2 and E2 because Charles and Elaine have grown accustomed to using C2 and E2 to do the work that these robots were doing. Elaine wails that if E2 is destroyed, then Elaine would have to (gasp!) get a real job. Charles tells Elaine, “As much as it pains me to say it, we have to work together to track these fuckers down.”
Charles is annoyed with Elaine because she had sent E2 to have sex with Charles. Elaine is annoyed with Charles because she thinks this mishap wouldn’t have occurred if Charles had given C2 the correct address. It all just leads to a heinously idiotic slog of bickering and bad decisions. Woodley and Whitehall have no authentic-looking chemistry together. They just go through the motions and utter their lines, much like the robots that they also portray in this terrible movie.
The movie’s supporting characters are even emptier. Charles has a moronic and schlubby best friend named Ashley (played by Paul Jurewicz), a former U.S. Army chef who is currently unemployed. Ashley is a politically conservative bigot who blames immigrants and robots for his inability to get a job. Ashley serves no purpose in the movie except to show up and act like an idiot. The friendship between Charles and Ashley looks completely phony.
Worst of all, “Robots” has nothing clever or amusing to say about how robot clones would have an impact on society if these robots really had the ability to become more “human.” This sloppily made and poorly conceived film just becomes another rom-com chase movie where the would-be couple spends most of the story denying what most viewers already know is going to happen between them. Charles and Elaine want to pull the plug on their robot clones, but it’s too bad no one pulled the plug on this mindless and time-wasting movie.
Decal/Neon will release “Robots” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 19, 2023.