Whether yay or nay, 'A.I.' has 'em talking

HOLLYWOOD – “A.I.” is a fascinating movie for the ages and a total winner.

“A.I.” is a frustrating tower of high expectations that collapses into a rubble of dashed hopes.

Take your pick.

America’s critics seem divided between the two mindsets, creating a dissonance seldom heard about a movie with a $100 million pricetag.

Newspapers vary in range from “a complete bust” (St. Paul Pioneer Press) to “the best fairy tale Mr. Spielberg has made” (an unusually gushy New York Times).

No wonder. The pair of directors responsible for its conception and gestation were the oddest of odd couples.

Or, as Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post put it, “Spielberg sees the glass as half full; Kubrick saw the glass smashed and ground into your face.”

The reviews have a common thread regarding the Kubrick Factor. Did Spielberg get it right? Or was Kubrick correct in not making it? Some, like the Orlando Sentinel, bitch amusingly that Spielberg’s direction of the Kubrick project is “like Santa Claus taking charge of the IRS.”

Fascination overload

But whatever camp critics belong to, “A.I.” is certainly generating a surfeit of fascination in their ranks.

n The Washington Post: “Fascinating, if uneven and silly.”

n Rolling Stone: “A fascinating wreck.”

n Variety‘s chief critic Todd McCarthy: “Deeply thoughtful and thoroughly fascinating.”

n The Village Voice: “Fascinatingly schizoid.”

“Fascinating…” is also the first car in a freight train of adjectives proffered by the L.A. Daily News, which also calls it “frustrating.”

Which is about the only other thing on which critics can agree: “A.I.” often frustrates.

n “It exhilarates, frustrates and provokes,” says Newsweek’s David Ansen.

n The pic is “both wonderful and maddening,” grouses Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.

n It’s “involving and exasperating,” laments the Philapdelphia Inquirer.

n The Seattle Times, too, has its own appreciative vexation: “For every moment it frustrates, there are a dozen that amaze …”

Yet it’s the ever-abbreviated USA Today that offers perhaps the most concise “A.I.” dictum:

“A movie to be knocked, chewed and gummed,” says USA Today’s critic Mike Clark, “but not dismissed.”

In short, their confusion is real. A consensus it is not.

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