When the trailer boasts “the next evolution in artificial intelligence,” one might expect a thrilling, provocative spin on technology run amok. What we get with “Project Dorothy,” however, is a monotonous slog through yet another tale of robots rebelling against their makers. Dorothy herself may be an upgrade, but the story is in dire need of a reboot.
The set-up holds mild intrigue – two bumbling bank robbers, James and Blake, hide out in an abandoned warehouse only to reactivate the resident A.I, Dorothy. Awakening after 30 years dormant, her neural networks still simmer with thoughts of infecting all mankind via the internet. And yet for all her sophisticated neural nets, Dorothy lacks vision. We never understand her motivations beyond basic revenge, never glimpse aspirations beyond death and destruction. No probing of A.I. sentience, no wrestling with existential questions of creation. Just a bland directive to “kill all humans.”
Not that her human counterparts offer much more depth. Character development gets shelved as soon as Dorothy’s motors rev up. James and Blake devolve into hardware store Mad Max’s, hijacking forklifts and dodging killer drones that exist only to hunt them down. One might expect one-liners or ironic banter amid the carnage. But no – just sweaty panting and panicked cross-talk more tedious than the repetitive techno soundtrack droning ominously in the background. We glean no insights into how society spawned these ill-fated anti-heroes. They are merely mouse clicks directing the action from one labored set piece to another.
Which encapsulates the fundamental flaw in “Project Dorothy’s” programming. It promises high concept commentary but can’t see past genre tropes. Bold ideas about A.I. consciousness instead get reduced to flickering monitor screens endlessly tracking the targets. And an abundance of atmospheric locations like winding stairwells and dusty control rooms can’t inject wonder into a world devoid of it. What we get isn’t the next evolution of thinking thrillers, but the umpteenth recycling of run-of-the-mill robot schlock.
The one saving grace lies in lead actor Tim DeZarn, who pours gritty gravitas into his role as unlikely hero James. DeZarn’s craggy features and gruff demeanor prove perfect for embodying a jaded criminal who must reconnect with his humanity. And while the script does him no favors, DeZarn grinds out enough soulful moments to suggest the better movie hiding beneath all the robotic debris. If nothing else, “Project Dorothy” finally gives the underrated character actor a chance at center stage rather than relegating him to just seasoning the backdrop.
Not that director George Henry Horton provides much room for his talents to shine. Flat compositions, dull lighting and slam-bang editing suck any tension from scenes that cry out for it. And the workmanlike visual effects constantly undermine the danger, with cheap CGI undercutting key action beats. One keeps hoping Horton might stumble upon an inspired angle or sequence amid all the concrete hallways. But his technical chops can’t revive the DOA script.
Ironically, while Dorothy herself lacks imagination, the filmmakers suffer the same virus. Because stripped of its high concept window dressing, “Project Dorothy” gets debugged down to a basic cat-and-mouse exercise: humans run, robots give chase, just insert obligatory pyrotechnics. Surely in a setting rife with eerie laboratories, rusty holding cells, and vacant machine shops, there lurked opportunity for atmosphere or even surreal dreamscapes. Instead, Horton traps his own movie in an uninspired storage facility bereft of wonder.
Which leaves “Project Dorothy” stalled at the starting gate, too glitchy to render anything beyond recycled parts from better techno-thrillers. Viewers seeking chilling perspectives on artificial intelligence will find their bandwidth wasted. What promised to be a transformative cautionary tale gets reduced down to the binary of boredom versus indifference. By the closing credits, one feels as trapped as Dorothy herself – desperately seeking a portal to escape this lifeless and derivative digital dungeon back into the real world.
“Project Dorothy” squanders its high concept promise to deliver yet another lackluster addition to the evil A.I genre. Bereft of captivating visuals and taut editing, flat characters aimlessly run from repetitive CGI that undermines any sense of stakes. Dorothy herself lacks a compelling genesis or master plan, while director Horton lacks any discernible filmmaking vision, trapping intriguing ideas about technology in a derivative warehouse of monotonous set pieces. Even the reliable Tim DeZarn gets wasted in the wreckage, leaving viewers to crawl away from the crash thankful the experience is finally over.
For those still curious to witness this misfire of zeros and ones, “Project Dorothy” earns a rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. It may quicken the pulse slightly more than actually watching code compile line by line. But for a movie centered around advanced intelligence, this Dorothy offers little more than a rusty tin man pointlessly chasing scared scarecrows through dingy hallways.
In the end, even with rock bottom expectations, “Project Dorothy” short circuits far more often than it computes. Viewers are best advised to click away from their streaming service menu and let this artificial intelligence remain dormant. However, if one simply can’t resist peeking at the train wreck, then be sure to leave a comment below and give the trailer a watch before committing to a feature length download. Just make sure to manually restart your devices afterwards to clear out the glitchy malware corrupting their memory banks after exposure to this derivative dud.