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Zero One
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by Jay Seaver

"Another dangerous machine intelligence, but a user-friendly one."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Nerds are, like most of the rest of humanity, kind of hypocrites. This movie's main character probably tells anybody who ask him for computer advice not to open attachments from an unknown source, but you know what happens if this guy who knows better acts that sensibly? Three-minute movie, that's what happens.

The "attachment" in this case is a large file that network engineer Devon Owens (Jordan Spradley) found while poking around the internet. It unpacks an artificial intelligence whose alphanumeric designation is quickly abbreviated "Zero One". Devon and friend/co-worker Kyle Manning (Jeff Hoferer) put it on an isolated server and attempt to control what information it is fed as it attempts to learn, but AIs have a way of getting around firewalls. And when Devon meets Ingrid (Monica Peña) after having quit his job in part to spend more time working with 01... Well, just like AIs figure their way around firewalls, they tend to have trouble understanding human relationships.

As much as "two guys set up a computer program and talk to it" does not exactly sound like the most engrossing set-up for a movie, the first half or so of Zero One actually bounces along pretty well. In fact, it's not very long at all before one may forget that the film opened with a flash-forward that suggests the stakes will eventually get much higher than some overtaxed routers and awkward man-machine conversations. It turns out that the getting from one situation to the other is a bit clumsy, with danger suddenly appearing out of nowhere despite some awkward foreshadowing, a somewhat-forced lull, and then something else which finally brings to movie full-circle.

Still, that first half works, in large part due to the chemistry between Spradley and Hoferer. Spradley, who is in close to every scene of the movie, has to start Devon off with a good-sized chip on his shoulder, and while that hostility is front and center in a number of scenes, he isn't an angry black man stereotype even then; Spradley makes it clear that the ways Devon pushes people away owes as much to nerdy obsession as to thinking the world has it in for him. Jeff Hoferer, meanwhile, plays Kyle as a pretty much untroubled soul, kind of dorky in manner but tremendously likable. They come across as close friends right away, and the way they eventually include Zero One (voiced by Jay Prichard) in their banter is a huge help in getting the audience to believe in the computer program as a character.

After stuff starts going down, things get a little more rough. There's quite a bit to like when the movie starts to take on more thriller elements; writer/director Kareem Gray escalates things surprisingly quickly and entertainingly, and is his willingness to push the action beyond what one might expect based on how relatively small-scale and restrained the picture had been up until certain points is appreciated. Even when he doesn't necessarily have the resources to do it smoothly, the ambition is enjoyable enough that one doesn't squint too hard at the production values. There are still times when a little more creativity would be appreciated; for example, he does so little with a "close-up of a police badge and then pan up to surprise the audience with its bearer" shot afterward that I wondered why he bothered. More importantly, a lot of the last act man-versus-machine arguments that had a bit of mileage on them when James T. Kirk was making them on Star Trek - though to be fair, Gray and cinematographer/editor Ron Gonzalez make a finale that involves a lot of computer screens and voice synthesizers more dynamic than it has any right to be.

Gray and his cast and crew should be saluted for that, really. "Zero One" is built on a premise that's familiar enough to feel outdated (as I said on "Eagle Eye"'s release, when my 80-year-old not especially tech-savvy grandmother is keeping in touch via Facebook, it's time for filmmakers to stop pretending computers are scary), but does well enough with the details that matter to make it at least enjoyable, if not exactly revolutionary.

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originally posted: 02/18/12 17:29:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/20/12 Dawn LOVED it! Kept my interest peaked for the entire film. Can't wait to see what comes next? 5 stars
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Directed by
  Kareem Gray

Written by
  Kareem Gray

  Jordan Spradley
  Jeff Hoferer
  Monica Peña
  Jay Prichard
  Heather Okun

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