Synopsis: In the fight to end AI exploitation, an underground resistance attempts to infiltrate a grieving detective by sabotaging the programming of the artificial human assigned as his companion to behave like his late wife.
Stars: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elena Kampouris, Doron Bell, Agam Darshi, Sara Sampaio, Alix Villaret, Fletcher Donovan, CJ Perry, Stephen Lobo
Director: James Bird
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Here’s some trivia for you. Often in movies, when actors are in a scene at a club where music is playing, and the background extras are dancing around and gyrating, they are usually doing it to no music. All of that is edited in later to save on any additional sound being picked up by microphones. (Same goes for clapping – watch the extras next time and spot the ones not making complete contact with their applause…) I’ve been on sets for these ‘silent’ dance parties, and it’s weird to watch. Now imagine you are watching a film where this is happening, but all the extras are in lingerie.
Perhaps someone forgot to put the music back into WifeLike. There are a lot of scenes where scantily clad women are in the background of scenes randomly doing the same step-step-hip-hip-shoulder-shoulder sway while running their hands up their sides to no music. It may go along somewhat with the futuristic film about the proliferation of beautiful “Companions” being manufactured and sold. Still, it doesn’t always explain why these glorified Fembots are always rarin’ to dance like nobody’s watching…or turned the music to defiant jazz.
It’s clear WifeLike was made by a specific team for a particular audience, though I thought Twitter canceled all of them over the past few years. Despite the appearance of it being a sci-fi mystery concerning a Blade Runner-esque hunter (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Albert Nobbs) tracking down a criminal who has been making off with expensive Companions to ‘free’ them, the abundance of sex, nudity, and a general seediness makes the film more like a 1 am Skinamax offering with a slightly larger budget. The production values are high, and director James Bird introduces a few good ideas along the way, but it’s all so misogynistic and male gaze-y that it begins to feel exploitative within the first ten minutes.
That’s how long it takes for Rhys Meyers to get Elena Kampouris (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) out of her dress and into bed for the first of several aggressively uncomfortable rolls in the hay. The two actors are beautiful in and out of clothes, but the way the camera is choreographed and the intimacy of the scene comes across as overly intrusive and stops the movie dead in its tracks before it can even get started. Thankfully, Bird gets that crud out of the way within the first hour of his too-long film and gradually moves the action from the dirty to the dark.
Through the WifeLike process, a human being can be reprogrammed as a Companion even after passing on. It’s how Meredith (Kampouris) was programmed to behave like William’s (Rhys-Meyers) late wife. She needs time to adjust to being Meredith again, which involves learning Meredith’s hobbies and dreams and going through several tutorials. She gets one out of the way the first night (naturally) and moves on to cooking, knitting, and cleaning the toilet. (That last one is fake, but you get the picture.) Her dreams have been infiltrated, though, and she begins to receive messages from a mysterious figure urging her to ‘remember.’ Soon, there’s real-life danger as the perfect life Meredith thinks she was living starts to crumble around her, and her expiration date might arrive sooner than expected.
Filmed in British Columbia, there’s an oddly sterile look to WifeLike, not just in that futuristic sanitized way. Maybe it’s the costumes that seem to be accentuated strangely to reshape Kampouris, or perhaps the sets that are so crisp and defined you can see what’s CGI and what’s particle board. Divert your eyes from the computer screens, which often show the same information no matter where you are. As seems to be typical, there are more glass windows in the future, keeping privacy to a minimum…get ready for all of you that like to vacuum in the nude!
I feel the film and its supporters will attempt to defend itself from its clear misogynistic underpinnings by pointing to the way Kampouris gradually becomes the heroine of the piece, but that doesn’t account for the entire conceit of WifeLike in the first place. An alarming number of women appear in their underwear to do nothing but stand there without autonomy. If that’s the way this business is run, so be it. How much more interesting would it have been if the company was run by a woman and not some greased-haired sleazeball? If the filmmakers had thought through the optics of their piece instead of how everything looked, they might have found ways to upgrade a low-end sci-fi thriller.