Friday, October 1, 2010

The Movies' Most Annoying Robots

Another mechanical Robin Williams makes us ponder cinematic buckets o' bolts that make us toss our popcorn.

Okay, we know he’s become an easy target, but the fact remains: Robin Williams is annoying. Both his overreaching performances(serious and comedic) as an actor and his gratingly repetitive, embarrassing and unfunny “spontaneous” streams of consciousness on talk shows and in interviews are as painful to watch as a “Full House” marathon. And yet he continues to get work. The former mime and Mork from Ork lends his voice to the “street-smart Rustie” Fender in the new animated comedy, “Robots.” Which makes us ponder... who are the most annoying robots in film history?

• Gort in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)
If you came from another planet to warn human beings that our violent nature is going to lead to our destruction, why, oh why would you bring along the biggest, most menacing looking robot as your sideman? Well, that’s just what Klaatu (Michael Rennie) does in this sci-fi classic. When a trigger happy soldier shoots the messenger, the looming garbage can of a robot, Gort goes on a li’l rampage in Washington DC, destroying the Capitol and causing a power outage! Whoo! How about practicing whatcha preach, Gort?

• C-3PO in “Star Wars” and its sequels. (1977 on)
Will someone please explain to us the benefit to the Rebel Alliance, the Empire or even Jar-Jar Binks of having C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) around? His specialty is Human-Cyborg Relations? Excuse me? If all this cowardly, whining, mincing mess of wires and mismatched metal is good for is translating R2-D2’s bleeps and bloops into English, we’d prefer a communication gap. Surely with all that advanced technology, there’s some kinda pocket sized universal translator that Leia could keep in her hair bun! Chewie shoulda’ left Threepio in pieces in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

• V.I.N.CENT in “the Black Hole” (1979)
This bizarre little Disney sci-fi film features a number of weird robots (including some that feel the need to wear robes and one with a southern accent), but the most annoying is the “Vital Information Necessary CENTralized”, a floating trash compactor with dice for eyes, a peppermint disc on his head and the voice of Roddy MacDowell (how the mighty fell). V.I.N.CENT is one of those genre film abominations that was obviously designed for toy shelves more than the big screen. He’s as palatable as an Ewok (and that ain’t tasty!).

• Commander Data from “Star Trek: TNG” films (1994 on)
“Please explain this ‘humor’ to me. I do not understand. What is it about imbibing ‘alcohol’ that humans find so fascinating? What is this liquid emanating from my purportedly mechanical eye? Who wrote the book of love?” ENOUGH with the questions already! Could you imagine being stuck in space with the robotic equivalent of Gavin from “The Kids in the Hall?” The most unbelievable aspect of this series was that Worf didn’t smash Data into a million pieces with some double edged Klingon torture device. And Bones thought Spock was bad!

• Number 5 in “Short Circuit” (1986)
Okay, let’s just say that cute robots are inherently annoying. Any Twiki-esque mechanical munchkin with a funny voice and the facial features of a teddy bear would seem to be at odds with the functionality of robot design. I mean, who wants an adorable refrigerator? What’s that? Some of you do? Well, then, you’ll love Number 5, the killing machine turned robot hippie, a mechanical ET on speed. The only good thing about Number 5 is that he’s a much more naturalistic actor than his co-stars in this film, Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg.

• David in “AI: Artificial Intelligence” (2001)
Three words: Haley Joel Osment.

• Ulysses in “Making Mr. Right” (1987)
Part of John Malkovich’s appeal is that he’s kinda creepy. It’s been the cornerstone of some of his best performances, in films such as “Dangerous Liasons,” “Mary Reilly” and of course, “Being John Malkovich.” It’s why he’s so miscast as Ulysses, the robotic “perfect man” in this very 80’s romantic comedy. Ulysses is the quintessential sensitive man, but with his mane of blonde hair, lisp and glassy stare, Malkovich makes him feel more like a serial killer! Wasn’t Patrick Swayze available? Mickey Rourke?

• Andrew Martin in “Bicentennial Man” (1999)
And, hey! Lookie here! Robin Williams again! In this variation on “Pinocchio,” Williams plays Andrew Martin, a robot that longs to be a real man! As he gains wisdom, emotions and, uh, flesh over two centuries, there’s lots of tears and learning and hugging and enough moralizing to make you wanna kick a puppy and take up smoking. Robots can teach us about life and death without whacking us over the head (see “The Iron Giant” for a far better rumination on those matters). This film and this performance are the definition of the word, “treacle.”

Annoying ‘bots all, but the worst is probably yet to come, especially if “Robots” is a huge hit. Coming soon to a multiplex near you! Lindsay Lohan in “Small Wonder: the Motion Picture!” John Woo’s remake of “Transformers: the Movie!” And Ruben Studdard makes his big screen debut in “The Adventures of Roomba!”

Hey, stranger things have happened. After all, they made “Patch Adams.”

POSTSCRIPT, October 2010:
Oh, hey, hooray, Transformers made it to the big screen. Ahem.



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