'Auggie': Film Review

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Takes artificiality to a new level.
9/20/2019

Richard Kind plays a depressed man who falls in love with an augmented reality woman in Matt Kane and Marc Underhill's sci-fi drama.

It's hard to avoid the elephant in the room when talking about the new sci-fi drama co-directed by Matt Kane and Marc Underhill. Said pachyderm is Spike Jonze's modern masterpiece Her, about the romance between a lonely man and his artificial intelligence-generated personal assistant. Auggie, starring Richard Kind in an older variation of the role played by Joaquin Phoenix in the Jonze film, traffics in such similar narrative and thematic territory that comparisons simply can't be avoided. And, pardon the pun, they won't be kind.

In an example of the pic's lack of subtlety, the name of Kind's character, Felix Graystone, practically screams out "nondescript." Indeed he is, being a mild-mannered architect who at the story's beginning is forced into a retirement he clearly doesn't want and hasn't made any plans for. Felix doesn't even receive a gold watch at his retirement party, but is instead gifted by his colleagues with an advance edition of a new product dubbed "Auggie." The name is short for augmented reality glasses, and Felix's blasé reaction makes clear his lack of interest.

That is, until a bored Felix puts them on and suddenly encounters a beautiful, doe-eyed young woman (Christen Harper), who, thanks to being generated by Felix's thoughts, proves able to intuit his every desire. At first, those desires are purely of the intellectual and emotional variety, with Felix, left alone at home more than ever thanks to his wife's (Susan Blackwell) recent job promotion, thrilled to have a new friend and companion who hangs on his every word.

But when made aware of a product upgrade that provides intimacy of a more physical variety, Felix takes advantage of the opportunity and finds himself falling in love with his adoring virtual companion. Let's just say that if you even wanted to see Richard Kind wearing tight shorts and writhing under the covers with an imaginary woman, this is your chance.

Clearly made on a very low budget, the film doesn't provide much in the way of special effects to suggest Felix's augmented reality, save for a computer game-style sound that we hear every time he puts on the glasses. More problematically, much of the running time consists of scenes featuring Kind and Harper speaking directly to the camera in tight close-up, the former looking much like a love-struck Tucker Carlson talking on his show with a member of the Trump administration.

Kane and Underhill's screenplay lacks any semblance of wit or humor, a fatal flaw in a movie whose middle-aged central character wears special high-tech shorts programmed for masturbatory purposes. Auggie is purposefully grim in style and execution, moving at a snail's pace and seemingly photographed in drab shades of gray. Although its running time is a mere 81 minutes, the pic seems to last forever.

Kind delivers a perfectly respectable, if perhaps too low-key, dramatic performance, but (and this is no fault of his), his years of playing comedic roles in countless films and television shows inevitably prove a distraction here. You keep waiting for his character to deliver the sort of one-liners that would garner guffaws on a laugh track. Blackwell provides fine support as the wife who finds herself losing her husband to an imaginary woman of his own creation, and Harper certainly possesses the ethereal gorgeousness that makes Felix's besottedness all too believable.

By the time Auggie reaches its conclusion with a final twist that doesn't nearly have the impact the filmmakers intended, you'll mainly be wishing for a pair of augmented reality glasses that would give you the illusion you're watching a better movie.

Production companies: Thundercane Productions, Strangely Compelling Multimedia, JFS Entertainment
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Richard Kind, Larisa Oleynik, Susan Blackwell, Christen Harper
Directors-screenwriters: Matt Kane, Marc Underhill
Producers: John Henry Hinkel, Matt Kane, Robert Sharman, Marc Underhill
Executive producers: Rui Machida, Mike McNamara
Director of photography: Natasha Mullan
Production designer: Monica Noonan
Editor: Marc Underhill
Composer: Ward Hake
Costume designer: Tasha Goldthwait
Casting: Alice Merlin

81 minutes