‘Atlas’ review: Just what Jennifer Lopez needs — another flop

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movie review


Running time: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 (strong sci-fi violence, action, bloody images and strong language). On Netflix.

It’s hard to tell if Jennifer Lopez has a talent agent — or a blindfold and a dartboard.

Her projects over the past year have been that random — from her Dunkin’ Donuts ad in which alleged husband Ben Affleck became a rapper, to her campy musical film “This Is Me … Now: A Love Story” that co-starred Jane Fonda and Post Malone as zodiac signs.

None of it has made a lick of sense.

In a modern world that’s obsessed with staying on brand, J.Lo’s brand is more like Newman’s Own — she’s got salad dressing and pet food.

Which brings me to “Atlas,” her Netflix science fiction meh-pic that’s a totally uninspired rip-off of “The Terminator” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

What is she doing in it?

Jennifer Lopez plays Dr. Atlas Shepherd. ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection
Jennifer Lopez plays Dr. Atlas Shepherd. ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Lopez plays a socially awkward scientist and chess master named Dr. Atlas Shepherd, who must chase down a robot terrorist hiding out on a distant planet where trees look like traffic cones.

I know. This wasn’t on my bingo card either.

Instead of Skynet and Cylons, Lopez’s character says “AI” over and over again in a doomed quest for relevance.

Artificial intelligence — which here, for the most part, means androids — rose up and killed 3 million people. Twenty-eight years later, humanity is still searching for Harlan (Simu Liu), the machines’ nuts-and-bolts leader who led the devastating revolt.

She spends most of “Atlas” inside a giant walking robot. ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection
She spends most of “Atlas” inside a giant walking robot. ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Atlas (another stressed-out and irritated role for Lopez) tracks down Harlan, whom she knew when she was a little girl and her mother helped develop this technology, to a faraway planet. She then accompanies the military on a journey through space to capture him.

What she and director Brad Peyton fail to capture is the viewer’s attention.

Like most of Netflix’s films outside of awards season, “Atlas” is a sluggish afterthought that settles for being just short of OK.

The movie unearths nothing new in what is a very old story of man’s touch-and-go relationship with technology. It not so boldly goes where “Star Trek” has gone many times before.

The filmmakers attempt to contribute some novelty with a controversial neural link device that connects people with AI to improve efficiency. That idea, while intriguing, is muddled and poorly explained. A program adapting to say “s–t!” isn’t exactly Isaac Asimov-level insight.

Simu Liu plays Harlan, an “AI terrorist.” ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection
Simu Liu plays Harlan, an “AI terrorist.” ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Even when looked at through the lens of blow-’em-up action, the film’s a fizzle. Once she lands on the planet, Atlas straps into a giant walking robot — think the one Ripley uses at the end of “Aliens” — and lumbers off to an escape ship.

So a big chunk of the movie is just Lopez seated and encased in metal as she shouts at a Siri-like computer named Smith. The ancient idea here is that this embittered, distrusting woman starts to see that not all artificial intelligence is inherently evil.

Sounds like Sarah Connor to me.

While Lopez’s star power and raw appeal are palpable as ever, that’s not enough to flesh out a guilt-ridden, self-loathing genius whose intellect is key to humanity’s survival.

The dismal writing does her no favors, true, but she’s the sort of actress who can save “The Wedding Planner” — not Earth.