Robot Stories

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Robot Stories

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On TV's late, lamented Futurama, the most popular show of the early 31st century is All My Circuits, a soap opera about the romantic escapades of lovelorn robots. As a sop to its "skinbag" demographic, the show includes one fairly superfluous human character. When 20th-century delivery boy Fry asks what the human does, his robot pal Bender replies, "Eh, the usual stuff. He laughs, he learns, he loves." In three of the four tales comprising Greg Pak's disappointing Robot Stories, humans do all the usual stuff, too, but it's the poor robots that function exclusively to teach them life-affirming lessons. Making futuristic movies on a micro-budget generally requires some sense of humor, but Pak's technophobic leanings steer his potentially lighthearted scenarios toward the somber and the maudlin. The first segment, "My Robot Baby," sounds like the makings of a great sitcom: A power couple (Tamlyn Tomita and James Saito) must prove they can take care of a robot infant before they're permitted to adopt a real child. A cross between Humpty Dumpty and a Tamagotchi, the cooing cyborg has a bottle that functions as a battery charger and a hard drive that records what nurturing it receives. What might have been a witty comment on lazy parenting, Version 2.0 (at one point, they pawn off the baby to a home-computer caretaker), concludes with a lame Twilight Zone twist that brings the mother in touch with her own traumatic childhood. More sentimental still, the second short, "The Robot Fixer," concerns a mother (Wai Ching Ho) who tries to connect with her comatose son by scavenging parts for his "microbot" collection. Again, Pak fails to see the humor in the elderly woman's nerdy obsession over Transformer-like toys, nor does he seize on the fantastical elements of play. Instead, the robots serve the narrow purpose of helping the mother to a soggy reconciliation with a dying man whose life was a disappointment to her. The robots finally get a third dimension in "Machine Love," which stars Pak as an iPerson office-worker android who makes up in productivity what he lacks in social graces. Some clever early scenes where the android interacts awkwardly with his officemates give way to a dreary tale of cyber-longing, as he falls in love with the sexy female android in an adjacent building. Apparently, when they're not touching people's hearts, even robots yearn to be more human. Aiming for a grand conclusive segment in the final story, "Clay," Pak hatches an idea that probably needed to be feature-length, though the end result is still lugubrious at 20 minutes. In 2027, when science has perfected a digital replica of the human brain, people have the opportunity to allow their consciousness to live on after the body dies. Sounds cool, right? Not for an ailing sculptor (Sab Shimono) who's accustomed to the old-fashioned tactile pleasures of working with clay. Given the chance for an immortality that can transport the mind and senses to several places at once, the sculptor, like Pak, chooses to be a stick in the mud.

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