Published Mar 01, 2004A team of San Francisco computer programmers are hired by Japanese investors to develop an interactive computer personality, a bird-like playmate called Koy Koy. As the team comes closer to finishing their product, they face moral questions about the origins of love: is it simply a series of chemical reactions involving dopamine and norepinepherine or something more mystical and elusive? As product-testing for their creation begins, the debate over love spills over into their personal lives.
The stylised visuals of the opening credit sequence bleed into the film's first few minutes and evoke the frenetic camera work of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. But once the plot gets moving, director Mark Decena inexplicably abandons the flashy photography in favour of a more conventional character-driven approach to storytelling. Whatever motivates this shift between styles is unclear (there's a weak link involving drug use) and it ends up feeling like a bit of a rip-off.
Fortunately, most of his characters are well realised and the questions they struggle with are compelling. John Livingston (Rand), as the film's central figure, is reminiscent of a younger, less-annoying Ben Affleck. His character remains suspicious of love even while falling for a local kindergarten teacher (played by Sabrina Lloyd). Informing his cynicism and lurking in the background of the story is an unsettling portrait of Alzheimer's. After watching the disease destroy his parent's 40-year marriage, Rand is unwilling, or unable, to invest as heavily in fleeting passions. It's the push and pull between scientific reason and raw emotion that gives Dopamine its edge.
First time director/writer Decena and co-writer Timothy Breitbach seem to have good ears for dialogue. The banter between the three programmers is often funny and clearly illustrates the differences between the characters. And if the plot comes dangerously close to overusing the tired narrative device of coincidence to bring its characters together, it mostly ambles competently toward a satisfying conclusion. (Mongrel Media)