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  Heartbeeps Soul Of A Robot
Year: 1981
Director: Allan Arkush
Stars: Andy Kaufman, Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid, Kenneth McMillan, Melanie Mayron, Christopher Guest, Richard B. Shull, Dick Miller, Kathleen Freeman, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Wally Ann Wharton, Barry Diamond, Jerry Garcia, Jack Carter, Ron Gans
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Here is a factory in 1995 which manufactures robots, doubling as a storage warehouse for the merchandise. One such item is a Valcom android (Andy Kaufman) which malfunctioned through no fault of its own and has been sent back to the factory where it will have its memory wiped and renewed for resale, but when it is standing on the shelf it notices an Aquacom model (Bernadette Peters) next to it, and strikes up conversation. Robot conversation is not quite like human conversation, not with these makes anyway, but they get along famously - such a pity, really.

After all, no matter how well these two machines are getting to know one another, there's no chance anything will come of it when they will be rebuilt and reprogrammed then sent their separate ways. These are servant robots, with Val a valet and Aqua a maid, but they have a brainwave in their circuits that night as they watch a thunderstorm, and wonder if they could make it together in the big bad world. Is this starting to sound twee? There's a reason for that, and at the time it was released what few audiences who saw it found Heartbeeps resistably schmaltzy, a setback in the movie careers of many of those involved, not least a certain Mr Kaufman.

He distanced himself from the piece, claiming he had only performed in it as an actor for hire, yet no matter how much he agreed with the critics and public that this was not the right vehicle for him, even going on David Letterman's chat show to offer everyone who saw it in cinemas their money back, somehow its very awkwardness and refusal to hurry up for anyone fitted in quite well with Kaufman's notoriously difficult comic persona. He probably did think it was a mistake and was able to salvage some material from its failure, but watching him and Peters gingerly shuffling around the woodland their characters escape to while covered in Stan Winston's distinctive makeup wasn't a million miles away from his stylings.

It's not only Val and Aqua who escape from the factory, they're joined by a stand up comedian robot called Catskil who delivers jokes from the Henny Youngman joke book (really - Youngman wrote, or recollected, its patter). Presumably Catskil was included to play up the humour, or at least add some where it was noticeably thin on the ground elsewhere, overtly at any rate, for there was another thing on the film's mind, and that was to lightly ponder the meaning of life. Oh, that old chestnut, which was used to far more financial success in Short Circuit half a decade later, but that was with a cartoonish personality which appealed at the time; here the robots act more like computers in their "thinking", and sound it.

There were two other robots involved; the threat was provided by a runaway police droid called the Crimebuster, which looked like an enormous Dalek, talking to itself in a running commentary about why it is causing so much destruction and why it wants to tear the runaways apart (though it's all a mistake in his programming). Then there's the "baby" of Val and Aqua, Phil (voiced in funny noises by The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia!), a ramshackle item of technology they create from spare parts and gradually grow to treat like their son. Whatever message about humanity and how it's reflected in these machines was obscure aside from a cutesy premise mirroring people's behaviour, and you could understand why with its stubbornly deliberate approach Heartbeeps didn't catch on at all, yet there is something here in its very oddity that keeps you watching. It doesn't even reach the eighty minute mark, suggesting drastic cutting, and it isn't particularly well-realised, but as failures go, it is intriguing, electronic John Williams score and all.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Allan Arkush  (1948 - )

American television director who got his break working on films for Roger Corman: Hollywood Boulevard (co-directed with Joe Dante), Deathsport and Rock 'n' Roll High School. During the eighties he moved into TV, but directed a few features: Heartbeeps, Get Crazy and Caddyshack II.

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