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One of the most disturbing aspects of modern science is that the more current models of brain chemistry and artificial intelligence start to resemble one another, the less room they find for human emotions like love, or the curiosity that drives the scientific impulse. In Dopamine, Mark Decena's directing and co-writing debut, this problem haunts John Livingston, a shy programmer working on "Koy Koy," a responsive computer program that imitates life. A colorful bird whose skills seem limited to flying in circles and singing songs on demand, Koy Koy looks like the Playstation 1 era's idea of state-of-the-art, but that doesn't stop Livingston from obsessing over it, staying up late to work out the fine points of its programming, or reluctantly releasing it to a privately funded learning center for a test run. There, he re-establishes a connection with a lonely teacher (Sabrina Lloyd) he met one night in a bar. Could this be love? Or could it be chemicals responding to stimuli, a reaction akin to Koy Koy's programming? Dopamine tries to pry that problem apart, and though the ideas seem sound, the film itself feels like the beta test for a more carefully fleshed-out attempt. Decena doesn't have much confidence that his audience will follow along: Like a college professor reiterating a key point long after it's found its way into everyone's notes, he cuts to shots of brain activity whenever Lloyd makes Livingston's neurons fire. The issues Decena raises rarely get treated on any but the most superficial of levels, and the flatly realized characters make it difficult to care what becomes of them. Clearly something has gone wrong when Koy Koy elicits more sympathy than the protagonists, although, to be fair, it is a very pretty little bird.