Apr 21, 2014

  Another Depp fly-by.


Grade: C

Director: Wally Pfister

Screenplay: Jack Paglen

Cast: Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger), Rebecca Hall ( Everything Must Go)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 119 min.

by John DeSando

“Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence.” Will Caster (Johnny Depp)

Is Transcendence another Johnny Depp bad choice? Not necessarily because of the occasional homage to solid sci-fi tropes like computers taking over the world and armies using WWII weapons such as mortars and howitzers in an age of drones and lasers. In other words, this melodramatic sci-fi cum noir is not all schlock, just mostly.

Dr. Will Caster, on his way to the next world within a month, downloads his mind to create a formidable artificial intelligence that incites the forces of an anti-technology terrorist group and the US Army to counter it. The sub-par noir of it all is the covert characters who might be working for the bad guys. Who knows? Maybe the Shadow? Wait—that’s radio, a second rate entertainment because it has no visuals as Hollywood does (but then again NPR trumps this B movie stuff in a second!). His wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall)---note the “Eve” allegorical possibility-- helps his mind along, and soon even Morgan Freeman, not playing god but near it, can’t stop him because he’s Johnny Depp.

Besides the out-dated weapons, illogical circumstances crop up, perhaps to remind us once again of cheesy 60’s sci-fi or just because first-time screenwriter Jack Peglan couldn’t think of a way out. Although the eerily feminine-voiced operating system exits early, replaced by Dr. Caster, is no Kubrickean Hal, it had promise until the bland Depp takes over.

“Shut it down!” Max (Paul Bettany)

“It? That's HIM!” Evelyn

Anyway, first-time helmer Wally Pfister, who has filmed for executive producer Christopher Nolan and won an Oscar for Inception, keeps the weak premise moving into the safe terrain of guessing; I say just cut the electricity and confiscate laptops. Then there’d be no bad plot to mock, or rather, I would have “transcended” a weak, infrequently amusing modern sci-fi.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at