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Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Matt Letscher, Portia Doubleday,

Director: Spike Jonze

First – the good news.

Spike Jonze’s one-of-a-kind science fiction romance has earned itself five Academy Award nominations, including two for Jonze – Best Writer and Best Director.

And the bad news?

If like me, you find Jonze’s blend of galloping pretension, underwritten characters and faux art movie finally resembles a radio play with pictures rather than a movie, at least you’ll know whom to blame.

It doesn’t help much either, that Jonze stretches an already emaciated central idea - a tedious man suffering the after effects of a divorce falls in love with his sexy-voiced computer – into just over two increasingly interminable hours.

Joaquin Phoenix’s flat and lazy performance was not Oscar-nominated, which is some consolation for having to watch him falling in love with his new computer with its “Artificially Indulgent Operating System” with all the dramatic credibility of road-kill.

Actually, to be fair, he doesn’t actually fall for the computer itself but rather its unseen sex-saturated voice provided (in her best breathless Lost in Translation tones) by Scarlett Johansson who chooses the name ‘Samantha’ to woo the emotionally damaged owner.

Which she successfully, if hardly believably, succeeds in doing, mostly at the pace of a snail with arthritis, leading Phoenix’s human date rightly to tell him “You’re a really creepy dude”.

So true – sporting a splendid moustache that would better suit a World War Two comic aviator impressionist, high waisted trousers and for too much of the time, wearing the expression of someone suffering from impacted constipation – Phoenix finds little impact in delivering his dialogue without appearing to waste too much time trying to give it the significance it sadly lacks.

Computer nerds will doubtless find much to admire in Jonze’s etiolated concept while ordinary computer users who, like me, essentially use their machines for writing, might well envy Phoenix being able to dictate the letters he writes for a living simply by speaking to the computer.

Science fiction buffs are not that well catered for, either, since the surprisingly serene future Los Angeles envisaged by Jonze resembles nothing so much as just another skyscraper-riddled American city, only more so. The giant TV screen used for a video gam that briefly features a loathsome little creature voiced by Jonze is impressive but hardly outstanding. Nowadays we have come to expect good special effects.

For the record, the unmemorable score by Will Butler and Owen Pallets also earned an Oscar nomination.

(Musically speaking, the real Spike Jones was the legendary 1940s and 1950s bandleader responsible for classic satirical numbers like ‘Cocktails for Two’ and his unique version of the ‘William Tell Overture”).

While the name Spike Jonze may possibly be a tribute to the musical master, it is actually a nom de film for Adam Spiegel.)

Interesting concept, shame about the execution and the length.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Colour.
125 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 09 Feb 2014