Sci-fi movies, TV and books usually resemble previous futuristic works, because we already recognize the common elements. Robots, neon lights, high-tech gadgets, sterile environments: these are just some of the traits that make the sci-fi genre. Almost Human has displayed all of those traits, but some stand out more than others.
Almost Human borrows from some of the best sci-fi films to form an enjoyable, cohesive TV series that is just getting started.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) must retire replicants, which are basically robots who look like and behave like humans. In Almost Human, Michael Ealy plays Dorian, a unique android brought out of retirement to work with Karl Urban's Det. John Kennex. Dorian isn't like the standard robots in Almost Human. He has emotions similar to a human and can think unlike the typical cyborg. Dorian would be the type of specimen Deckard would hunt in Blade Runner. Also, the dark slums littered with neon signs everywhere in the first episode of Almost Human resemble an environment in Blade Runner.
Although Det. Kennex isn't a souped-up man-machine, the beginning of Almost Human basically copies the beginning of Robocop. Kennex is ambushed by bad guys just like Alex Murphy (Peter Weller). Kennex is out of it for a while and then teams up Dorian. Together, they form an interesting duo the same way Robocop and Anne Lewis do. Lewis is kind of useless, no? Then again, Robocop is slow as hell, so someone has to do the ground work. Neither Dorian nor Kennex possess mega powers, but their combination forms a much more potent force than any other cops on Almost Human.
It wouldn't be a sci-fi universe without some robotic add-on to a human. In this case, Kennex has a prosthetic leg, to replace the one he lost when a grenade literally blows it off in the first scene of the series. In I, Robot, Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago cop who has a fake arm. The fake arm has its advantages. It easily punches opposing robots in the face. And it saves the day when Spooner slides down a gigantic computer core by sticking his arm into the core itself; a human arm could do no such thing. Will Kennex's leg save him? Spooner, much like Kennex, seems to be the only one doing some gritty police work. Yes, they are the main characters, however, out in the field, it would be nice to have some backup. Kennex has Dorian, Spooner was usually on his own.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
It's the late 18th century and the African slave trade is thriving in the British Empire bringing profits to both homegrown shipping centers like Liverpool and far-flung sugar and tobacco plantations in the Americas. All those pounds and pence encourage many bewigged House of Lords members to turn a blind eye to slavery's terrible human cost--until William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) forces them to pay attention. A rich young idealist inspired by John Newton (Albert Finney)--the former slave ship captain who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace"--Wilberforce struggles for more than 15 years to pass a law to end slavery risking his health and career in the process. He almost gives up until a fortuitous meeting with beautiful Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) re-ignites his passion for the cause. One of the best things Amazing Grace has going for it is Gruffudd's enthusiastic heartfelt performance. Probably best known to American audiences as Horatio Hornblower the Welsh actor is no stranger to period drama and his ease in knickers and puffy shirts helps ground the film and make Wilberforce an accessible down-to-earth hero rather than a crusading zealot. Meanwhile with her arch looks and knowing smiles Garai gives her relatively thankless role--basically Barbara is an excuse for exposition-driven flashbacks--a spark of fun. Finney does a little (mostly justified) scenery chewing as Newton while fellow veteran Michael Gambon has some delightfully devilish moments as Wilberforce's unexpected political ally Lord Charles Fox. And Rufus Sewell who often ends up playing smooth baddies is both witty and wily as fervent abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Considering that director Michael Apted is the man behind the series of groundbreaking British documentaries that began with Seven Up! Amazing Grace is almost quaintly straightforward and sincere. There's no question that William Wilberforce fought for a good cause or that he was a decent man who used his influence to make the world a better place. But at least in the movie that world doesn't have too many shades of gray in it which--while it helps keep the story on track--isn't exactly realistic. Some of the movie's most intriguing scenes follow Wilberforce and his gang of fellow activists as they desperately lobby for votes--proof that the political process hasn't really changed that much in the last 200 years. Had the movie delved more deeply into the complicated back story of Wilberforce's long struggle it might have delivered a message that modern audiences aren't already sold on.
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is trying to keep his small family together after losing his wife and the mother of their kids Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) in a tragic fire that left them homeless. Out of nowhere one enigmatic Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) wills Arthur a bizarre yet dazzlingly beautiful mansion made almost entirely of glass and filled with priceless antiques. There's not much that could go unseen behind the transparent walls except for perhaps 12 pesky ghosts of disturbed folks like onetime mental patients and a kid whose head got in the way of an arrow. It just so happens old Cyrus with the help of his psychic phantom-wrangler Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) has been summoning up a few restless spirits so he can open the Eye of Hell and take over the world or something. They just need one more spirit to finish the job.
All right who's blackmailing Oscar-winner Abraham into taking roles like this? The man should have thrown the script out sight-unseen and then fired his agent. Rah Digga yet another rapper-turned-wanna-be-actress is there to offer some sassy comic relief as the kids' nanny--she's fun in a usual sort of way. Shalhoub-ho hum. Elizabeth? Yawn. She's not even in half the movie. Lillard it can be said is about the only bright spot in this otherwise not-silly-enough not-cheesy-enough not-funny-or-scary-enough horror movie. He's got the right idea as he tries to camp it up as a borderline hysterical psychic who has guilt issues about being able to see everyone's secrets with his "gift." But worst of all is the usually great Embeth Davidtz (um Schindler's List?!) as a--get this--ghost's rights activist who thinks she's channeling Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist as she hisses the obvious: "This house is not a house!"
The only thing scarier than F. Murray Abraham taking a role in this movie is that it ever got made at all--then again we have the Dark Castle folks (the same ones who brought us that masterpiece remake The Haunting a few years ago) to thank. They forgot to hire a director and a scriptwriter instead putting visual effects guy Steve Beck behind the camera to show us some semi-interesting special effects (it is a ghost movie after all and you better score some points there). Unfortunately the movie is uneven makes little sense and strives for both laughs and scares but achieves neither with cornball dialog and silly stereotypes; it's wildly gory to boot. Everyone's gonna say the ultra-modern haunted house is the star of Thirteen Ghosts and with good reason. The production design in this movie is amazing and the idea of ghosts hiding behind clear walls is an intriguing if ultimately wasted concept.