Review: I.T. (2016)

Impressive setpieces and enjoyable performances, but lazy writing prevents any emotional or thematic effect.

Let me start this off by saying that I have a soft spot for Pierce Brosnan. His was the Bond that I came of age under, and since then he’s been one of those actors that I’ve developed a personal fondness for. And while this has set me up for more than a few disappointments, I usually find myself at least enjoying his presence, if not also his performance, in a film. At the very least, I root for the film to be a success and for him to be well-regarded in it.

I say all of this not out of some unresolved obsession with Brosnan (at least not completely), but more to highlight the fact that the makers of I.T. seem to be treating him with the same kind of glossy fawning. That Brosnan is the breadwinner of the film goes without saying, if only by virtue of the fact that he is in nearly every scene. But the idea that his presence is expected to carry the entire worth of the movie also offers the only rationale I can figure for why the rest of I.T. is so superficial, underdeveloped, and honestly lazy.

This is vexing, because I.T. should be a good movie. It has a series of themes and traits that, while maybe a little obvious, are all ripe for exploration: the perils of materialism and success in a technologically dependent world; the rippling ramifications of PTSD and over-prescribed medication; the fragility of human relationships in a world whose value systems have become misplaced by commodity and digital sheen. Unfortunately, I.T. itself falls victim to this same shallowness: while it is visually attractive and well-enough acted, the film discards all of its most promising ideas as quickly as it mentions them, shortchanging the intelligence of both its characters and its plot in service of forced, hackneyed formula.

I.T. has all of the best intentions, but continually falls victim to cookie-cutter syndrome. The movie clocks in at just over 90-minutes, a perfect viewing time for a taut thriller. And it embraces this economy from the very beginning: Michael Regan (Brosnan) is a successful CEO of an aviation company, primed to gamble his success by taking his company public on the strength of an app styled as “Uber for private jets.” During the pivotal presentation in which Regan must convince investors of the strength of his app, his video feed goes down, only to be saved by a talented and unknown I.T. Temp; Edward Porter (James Frecheville). Regan befriends the young man, promising him advancement within the company.

But from here, unfortunately, the movie suffers from being too much by half, and largely falls apart. For starters, the pacing, which had already started out a little rushed, ramps up even more. As a result the editing and atmosphere never align. Each shot is filmed in a slow, deliberate sense and acted with tense pauses between each character, as Porter increasingly imposes on the Regan’s lives. But Porter’s impositions happen so rapidly and successively that they completely remove all suspension of disbelief. Porter comes in to fix the Regan’s wifi, but not before he directly installs an illegal GPS system into Michael’s car as he watches. Within the same scene, he adds Michael’s daughter on Facebook and starts messaging her, something that for some reason she in no way finds weird. I.T. consistently makes the mistake of forcing its characters to act like characters, rather than real people, in order to get to the next necessary – and improbable – plot point.

The result is that I.T. loses all sense of emotional effect or philosophical reflection. Never-mind that the Regan’s are being tortured by a technological wunderkind, or that they seem to have let technology so consume their life that they are imprisoned by it. We don’t learn enough about them to care, and the film doesn’t treat any of them with enough respect to make us feel as though we should. When Michael’s home goes haywire, flickering on and off all of his lights, blasting heavy metal music and unleashing the sprinkler systems, his only solution is to start sleeping with a bat. And Porter’s initially unexplained motivation for hunting the Regans, which is the film’s most exciting narrative drive, is quickly revealed and dismissed with a few mouse clicks. He simply has a history of mental illness and an abusive upbringing, and so he’s taking it out this family because they’re successful and happy. Furthermore, when push finally comes to shove (several, several times well beyond when any thinking person would have at least called the police), Michael just hires an outside consultant who is as technologically adept as Porter.

In confusing brevity and laziness, the filmmakers stuff endless Deus Ex Machinas into the film, castrating its characters of any intellectual presence. The result is that by the second half of the film, the viewer is completely removed and unable to do anything other than notice gaps: Why would such a storied history of Porter’s mental illness and repeated firings not come up on any kind of employee screening? Why would a CEO of such a massive company have so few safeguards or recourses in place? Why doesn’t the film use these incongruities as strengths, maybe establishing Michael’s character as hubristic enough not to believe in security? Why is everything happening so artificially, only when it is convenient to the plot? Why does this film insist on being unaware of itself?

This condition makes itself most damningly known in the film’s conclusion. Normally I would withhold any plot details for fear of revealing spoilers, but in the case of I.T., frankly there aren’t any. The film’s final twenty minutes, clearly intended to be the tense “cat and mouse” chase between Porter and Michael, winds up blunt and superficial. Time after time did I expect, and hope for, some kind of twist that, however cheap, would have at least belied a modicum of planning or industry in the characters. But they never materialize. Porter is easily fooled, has planned no larger scheme against Michael, and ultimately has no actual endgame other than to hold the man’s family at gunpoint.

This all being said, there are redeeming elements to I.T. The film is beautifully shot, with crisp, nearly antiseptic set pieces that indicate the personal detachment that has come with Michael’s material success. Brosnan’s performance is just outside of his typical calm, collected wheelhouse, and he delivers it with a good degree of control and naturalism. It’s fun getting to listen to him act in his native brogue as well, although even that dips into such exaggeration at times that I had to YouTube some interviews to see how much of it was faked. James Frecheville is giving his best Buffalo Bill rendition here, although the scenes of his personal mania dip into the comical. But again, what promising moments appear remind the viewer what a shame the rest of the movie is. Everyone is doing the best they can to hint at an actual film while being un-allowed to make a sum greater than superficial parts.

Ultimately the problem with I.T. is that it is a film that puts structure and convention before its characters. It feels like watching the outline to a spec script rather than a fleshed-out film. What’s so maddening about this is the number of times that you see the seeds of a real film poking through, as though the creators know the film could be something more if given the time and space. When Porter doctors Michael’s wife’s mammogram to read a false-positive, for instance, I had hoped we would see her character develop into a tragic arc of someone who begins to live under a false death sentence. Instead, she calls her doctor and is calmed down within the same scene.

Moments like this occur time and again throughout I.T., suggesting hopeful developments that are then dashed within the same scene. The result is a film that commits the worst kind of offense against its viewer: rewarding their attention by convincing them that they’re simply thinking too hard.

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