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There are occasionally films that one wants to see not because you think they are going to be good or even that you will enjoy them in spite of themselves. Some films one needs to see simply to confirm their bewildering existence. Heartbeeps, starring the late Andy Kauffman and Bernadette Peters as Val and Aqua, a robot couple, is one such film. That, firstly, a group of filmmakers dreamed up this idea and had the wherewithal to stick with it and see it come true and, secondly, that no one involved in its financing put a stop to it would be unimaginable had I not witnessed it myself.

The story, robots escape their factory life and go on the lam, is actually rather trite and dull. They are joined by my favorite character in the film, Catskill (voiced by Jack Carter), a Don Rickles look alike programmed with the oldest jokes known to standup. If you aren’t partial to these jokes like I am, though, you’re really going to hate this character by the end of the film. I would imagine most do but I like the Borscht Belt stuff. Kaufmann and Peters are an odd combination of robotic stiffness and childlike wonderment as they discover themselves as individuals and as a couple in the wild. It doesn’t help that the things they discover are territory covered in thousands of better told stories before them, and they fact that they are robots adds very little to making it anything new.

Along the way Aqua and Val have built a new unit to carry their spare parts in an extremely dopey and obvious metaphor for childrearing. This notion awakens and even larger sense of purpose and belonging in them and brings, of course, which is also dull rehash. Nothing of real significance ever comes of this, no new ideas or insights into older ones. The new unit is utterly devoid of personality and the fact that he can be rebuilt gives little reason to hope that he survives the various encounters thrown at the new family.

They are pursued by two separate antagonists. Bumbling robot factory workers Randy Quaid and Kenneth McMillan need to get the escapees back to their repair center. Overly aggressive automated police cruiser Crime Buster spends most of his time blasting random forest creatures and standing in as a symbol of automation gone awry, though neither as effectively nor as comically as ED-209 from Robocop. The robots eventually cross paths and Crime Buster gives chase. All of this leads to a climax of self sacrifice and a pair of unlikely allies in striving for their freedom.

The lack of any real depth, more than the stiff acting or corny jokes or weak characterization, is what ultimately grinds Heartbeeps to a standstill. I suppose the idea, which sounds like it was dreamed up by an 8th grade Asimov fan, sounded good for a while but the story brings nothing new to the table. There is also little incentive given for the audience to care for the protagonists. I couldn’t remember more than a few details of each of their personalities. The fact that they were given such leaden personas weakens the drama, particularly given the cop out ending to the film. I suppose a happy one was in order but it badly undercut the ideas of sacrifice for a future generation that the film laid throughout its run. So, while mildly amusing (almost all thanks to Catskill) the film was neither funny enough to accept the cheap drama nor well written enough to get over its cheap gags. In the end it was the sort of movie that’s best to have left movie buffs wondering what might have been, because what is ain’t much. 2 stars


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