Reviewed By Preston Jones
Posted 06/28/04 10:47:42

"Glitches in the system."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Technologically speaking, a “beta” version exists to work out the kinks before tweaking and releasing the final version. Cinematically speaking, director/co-writer Mark Decena’s feature film debut, Dopamine, tends more towards the beta end of things.

The film is a hit-or-miss affair that offers an intriguing premise, only to stumble when it comes to execution. Add to that embarrassing computer animation sequences (given that the film was made last year) and occasionally stilted performances from the leads and Dopamine might trigger a drop in your serotonin levels.
Dopamine concerns itself with Rand (John Livingston), a computer animator living in San Francisco following the dot com boom who becomes obsessed with Koy Koy, a large, bird-like creature that exists in a specially constructed cyber world. Looking like a cross between Big Bird on acid and the missing link between the Teletubbies and Barney, Koy Koy doesn’t speak, is painfully shy and eats, um, onyx. Yeah.
Rand’s co-workers, Winston (Bruno Campos) and Johnson (Reuben Grundy), are understandably less attached to Koy Koy than Rand (i.e. they’re in it for the quick cash) but once the program is set up for testing at a nearby school, Rand chances upon Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd), a commitment-phobic teacher, who seems to strike sparks with Rand – who, as his infatuation with Koy Koy proves, isn’t too hooked into what’s going on in the non-bitmapped world.
The central conceit of Decena and co-writer Timothy Breitbach’s screenplay is whether emotion can be manufactured or if it in fact is a byproduct of those wonderful chemicals that come standard in humans; a nifty idea to be sure, but one that is frustratingly slighted when it comes time to ramp up the human romance. Had the film more fully fleshed out the concept before tripping over itself to get to Rand’s character arc, the film would’ve packed much more punch.
The cast is engaging enough, although John Livingston is far from a compelling lead – a quick check of his prior films indicates that Livingston has had bit parts in The Net and Ed TV , among others; perhaps smaller character roles befit his talents more. Campos grabs your attention much more than Livingston, but that could just be the nature of the role. Lloyd grates for much of the film and only lightens up towards the final moments. Koy Koy, artificial though it is, may have the less charitable reaching for a shotgun before the movie wraps up.

Dopamine, with its under 90-minute run time, doesn’t overstay its welcome, but one does wish that it used its time more wisely – surprisingly enough, the film almost works better as a pseudo-documentary look at the post-dot com boom. The jittery, X-acto knife editing (particularly early on) brings an edge to the film that gives an appearance of more depth than is actually present. It’s worth a glance, but don’t expect Dopamine to leave your brainpan buzzing.

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