[Screen It]


(2023) (Allison Williams, Violet McGraw) (PG-13)

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Horror: A robotics engineer creates an ever-evolving robotic doll that takes on a life of its own while protecting the woman's recently orphaned niece.

Gemma (ALLISON WILLIAMS) is a robotics engineer at the toy company Funki run by CEO David (RONNY CHIENG) who's concerned that corporate competitors have now copied their lucrative robotic pet product.

Unbeknownst to him, Gemma and two colleagues -- Tess (JEN VAN EPPS) and Cole (BRIAN JORDAN ALVAREZ) -- have secretly been developing an advanced robotics doll codenamed M3GAN (voiced by JENNA DAVIS). Built with the latest AI technology, the robot imprints on one child and is designed to continually learn and evolve.

Gemma gets the chance to test that creation on her 9-year-old niece, Cady (VIOLET McGRAW), who she now has full custody of following the accidental deaths of Gemma's sister and brother-in-law.

It's not long before the girl bonds with M3GAN whose prime operative is to protect Cady psychologically and physically. And when the ever-evolving robot starts taking matters into her own hands, Gemma wonders and worries if she'll be able to get her creation back under control before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

I have to admit I'm fascinated with all things robot and artificial intelligence related. While the work done by Boston Dynamics (and other similar companies) with their robots is nothing short of amazing, I haven't had any first-hand experience with them.

On the other hand, there are lots of AI tools you can use and even try for free from the comfort of your own home. My current favorite is ChatGPT, a text-based program where you can ask it to do pretty much anything related to writing -- pen a short story or screenplay with whatever specific parameters you input, write programming code for an app, create recipes with your list of ingredients -- and it spits out the results in seconds.

It's free for now, presumably to test and improve the system and, who knows, maybe it's learning from what it's being fed by millions of users around the world and improving itself. You know, for future world domination! Or perhaps an Oscar for its latest, greatest screenplay.

While not all (and let hope no) such AI and robotics are out to do in humanity, the dangers of both have been around in fiction longer than the technology has existed in real life. That includes a plethora of sci-fi and horror movies, with their stories ranging from epic destruction and chaos to more smaller-scale, personal tales.

The latest of the latter is "M3GAN" which combines the cautionary aspects of such big-tech work with the serial killer aspects of toys-run-amok offerings such as "Child's Play." Here, rather than a John Gruden, uh, Chucky doll, we have the title character (yes, the 3 stands in for a reverse E and thus she's referenced as "Megan") who's the brainchild of robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) who wants to create something more sophisticated and useful than robotic pets that poop and fart.

Along with coworkers Tess (Jen Van Epps) and Cole (Brian Jordan Alvarez), she's created the girl doll that not only is self-ambulatory and can scan humans like Arnie's T-800 for bio readings, but is also a great companion that will bond with one child and improve along the way in all of its abilities, including protecting its chosen kid, both psychologically and physically.

Gemma gets some hands-on, field testing with M3GAN when she becomes the sole custodian of her 9-year-old niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), following the car accident deaths of her parents. The girl immediately bonds with M3GAN (voiced by Jenna Davis) and vice-versa, and all is hunky dory both domestically and commercially until the robot takes her programming a bit too seriously. And when the neighbor's troublesome pooch and later a bully get on the wrong side of the sweet little robot girl, Gemma worries that it might be too late to close Pandora's box.

As directed by Gerard Johnstone from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, there isn't an original bone, or steel rod if you will, in this cinematic body, and thus it's about as predictable as they come, including exactly how things will be resolved at the end.

And it doesn't care to address any number of dumb or illogical moments and material that are scattered throughout the 100 or so-minute runtime (including, but not limited to, why or how they'd build such a tiny robot with such dangerous super-strength that Sarah Connor wouldn't know who/what to be more afraid of).

But you know what? Despite its various issues, it's a fun ride in the moment, no doubt helped by the black comedy elements sprinkled through the film. It won't be for all tastes, but I enjoyed it and was entertained enough to award "M3GAN" a 6 out of 10 rating.

Posted January 6, 2023

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