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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Smart House (1999)



Reviews and Comments

Why do they keep making movies like this? I can think of all kinds of better ways to approach this story just off the top of my head. There is great potential, after all, in a movie about a family living in an artificially intelligent computer for a home. The computer was designed to accommodate every last need of its occupants. Every wall is a giant television screen; food is made to order. The house cleans itself, secures itself, and does everything remotely possible (and some things that aren't) all by itself. The house analyzes the chemical composition of its owners, inferring from that their past bad habits, ideal diet, bedtime, and so on.

Obviously, a fantastic play of ethics could be made out of such a story, and in that context, it wouldn't matter how outrageous or unrealistic the house computer's power. Is it ethical that a computer should be programmed to analyze your body, without prior consent, and derive personal findings from the data -- and then announce the findings to everyone present? But this movie isn't a study of ethics.

It isn't a study of technology, either, which might also have made it a great movie. There's no ponderings about the logical ends of the leaps and bounds technology makes these days.

Instead, this is a sappy, cardboard "family comes together" movie, where a single parent and a couple of children have some issues they need to work out. The movie has the most insufferable good intentions, clumsily played out. If it isn't painfully obvious where everything is going after the plot sets itself up, you don't watch many movies.

The computer is pretty much what kills it. It boggles my mind how many computer movies get made by people who don't know the first thing about them. The "control room" has monitors with information flashing too fast to read and beeps incessantly. The vocal output of the computer keeps saying things like "Accessing Artifical Intelligence" and "Accessing Responsible Behavior." By mucking with a few switches, one of the kids manages to program the computer to emulate the actions of a mother -- the computer starts enforcing strict health diets and bedtimes and so forth. It becomes unmanageable, so the computer is shut down. But wait! The computer activates its "System Shut-Down Override," powers back up, and starts terrorizing the family, securing them in the house and demanding love and affection. The "climax" involves the human characters reprimanding it by teaching it what real love is, and the computer gives up and goes away. In the process -- surprise! -- the human characters are drawn closer together.

If only I could put how pathetic this movie is into words. Describing the plot should be sufficient to convey that it is bad, but I can't even hint at the extent of it. There are so many things wrong with every last frame of this excursion into stupidity that it's not worth going insane to try to cover it all.