REVIEW: ‘Mitchells Vs The Machines’ never rises above mediocre

This movie and the new “Matrix” in a few weeks is only reinforcing my concern about a robot uprising.

As the title implies, this movie is about a family, named the Mitchells, taking on evil bots. While the whole family is included, though, the main focus is on Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a teen who’s preparing to go to college in California to study film. Her academic path has put her at odds with her dad Rick (Danny McBride), though, who’s never been interested in technology and enjoys the outdoors much more.

Knowing that he has one last chance to connect with his daughter before she leaves for school, Rick decides to take Katie, as well as his son Aaron (Michael Rianda) and wife Linda (Maya Rudolph) on a college move-in road trip. Unfortunately, their journey is interrupted by the robots who’re in the midst of a global takeover because of an A.I. gone bad.

“Mitchells Vs. the Machines” is a movie I expected to like a lot more than I did. The film has a lot of humor inspired by internet culture and memes, plus the main protagonist is a film enthusiast. Combined with a robo-action adventure, this flick should have worked.

Yet it never comes together in a truly satisfying way. A noticeable issue is how formulaic the movie is. Despite all the robot mayhem, the ambitious, quirky child not connecting with the more uptight, traditional parent feels dated and overplayed here.

Not that these types of stories can’t still work. “Wolfwalkers” from last year did the conflicting parent-child relationship quite well. However, to pull it off, filmmakers need to do something fresh and balance the emotion with the humor.

It’s not pulled off well here. The emotional moments largely feel forced in the film, while the humor often boils down to ‘look, the older generation doesn’t understand technology.’

Additionally, because the father-daughter relationship is so focused on, Aaron and Linda aren’t really given much to do. It doesn’t balance the family members as well as “The Incredibles” did, for example.

MitchMachineBlog
Courtesy Netflix and Sony Pictures Animations

Another problem is a lot of the actors felt miscast. For much of his career, McBride has played assholes who often have an attitude, so his voice was out of place during the more emotional scenes as a loving dad.

Rianda, meanwhile, feels completely wrong for the younger brother Aaron. The young character sounds like a 36-year-old man, because he’s being voiced by a 36-year-old man. I get Rianda was writer/director on this project and probably wanted the role, but it just didn’t fit.

What does help the movie a lot is the main protagonist. Jacobson gives Katie the right amount of energy that a passionate college freshman has. She is certainly a likable character and it’s easy to root for her success in her endeavors. Her emotional moments are really the only ones that felt genuine.

Another positive is the animation. The film has a unique design, which is something that’s always welcome. Animation allows filmmakers to get weird and have fun with how the world looks, and this one certainly has an identity. The look of the film is only enhanced by fun details where the emotions the characters are feeling become visualized with site gags.

What doesn’t help the film as much is the messaging. Yes, we should have a healthy balance when it comes to technology. However, this movie just beats an audience over the head with it.

The humor is the same way, it feels shallow and dated. One scene for example, shows a bunch of people freaking out when the internet is shut down by the machines. It’s a joke that’s so overplayed, it was in a “South Park” episode in 2008.

“Mitchells Vs. the Machines” wins points for its lead character and animation but that’s about all it has to offer. The movie’s message is delivered with little subtlety, the story is generic and the rest of the characters are difficult to relate to. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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