It’s appropriate that the sense of smell–as related to attraction-inducing pheromones–is central to the concept behind “Dopamine,” because this third entry in the Sundance Film Series is a real stinker. It’s not quite so appropriate that the basic question addressed by the movie is “What is love?” because you’re far likelier to hate it.
This frail, grubby little picture is basically a wispy boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back concoction overlaid with the pretension to inquire whether love might not simply be a matter of chemical reaction. The fellow involved is Rand (John Livingston), one of three comrades putting the finishing touches to a interactive computer-generated bird named Koy Koy, who looks rather like a sort of yellow Gumby to which wings have been added. The backers of the project ask that it be field-tested before further investment will be forthcoming, however, and so arrangements are made for the fledgling to be installed in the playroom of a child-care center, where we find the other half of the romantic pairing: Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd), a teacher who wonders why a real critter wouldn’t be a more suitable mascot for her kids. Of course, Rand and Sarah are destined for each other, but they have to go through a lot of hemming and hawing first. There are also periodic shifts to Rand’s family life, which involves a mother hobbled by Alzheimer’s and a father (William Windom) who babbles on endlessly about love being a matter of elements and molecules. Meanwhile Sarah has to overcome a psychological barrier of her own–one that involves a long-ago affair and an adopted child.
“Dopamine” wants to be both cute and thoughtful, but manages neither. Instead it’s an uncommonly drab and simpleminded picture that seems grossly distended at a mere 79 minutes. Even its patina of techno-babble is hopelessly thin: the script actually wants us to believe that Rand can help Sarah in the end by resorting to that wondrous cutting-edge marvel, a Google search! The leads might make a decent impression under better circumstances, but here they’re deadly dull, moaning around in a sea of angst. Nobody else is consequential, either; it’s especially painful to watch the veteran Windom trying to make something of the pomposities he has to recite as Rand’s father. Technically the picture is strictly poverty-row: it’s shot on video, with a dark, washed-out color palette.
This is the third in the four-picture Sundance Film Series. To use baseball terminology, thus far it’s one win (“In This Life”) and two losses (“The Other Side of the Bed” and now this). Forgive me, but that doesn’t seem a particularly good average.