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Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by David Koepp
Starring Zoe Kravitz, Rita Wilson and Byron Bowers
Classification R; 89 minutes
Streaming on Crave starting Feb. 10
If nothing else, Steven Sodebergh is the hardest working man in pandemic-era Hollywood.
Since March, 2020, the filmmaker has already shot and released two films (three if you count his remix of Kafka that he tricked TIFF audiences into seeing), produced the Academy Awards (okay, not his finest moment), and become HBO Max’s favourite in-house auteur.
Soderbergh’s insatiable work ethic is impressive enough to forgive the ultimate results of his never-quit tendencies: While last year’s No Sudden Move was a nasty little noir, his latest quick-shoot experiment Kimi is as essential a COVID-19 artifact as a bucket of Purell: perhaps a good idea at the time, but not the salvation we had pinned our hopes on.
Taking place in Seattle during the pandemic’s early-summer lull – some characters walk around with face masks, but others go to work in maskless office buildings – Kimi focuses on solitary tech worker Angela (Zoe Kravitz), who spends her days in a fabulously large apartment reviewing audio-stream data for Kimi, a new Alexa/Siri-like contraption that dims your lights, plays your favourite songs and generally organizes your life.
Everything is going decently well for the agoraphobic Angela – she sometimes invites the across-the-way neighbour inside for no-strings sex, and again has a tremendously stylish apartment whose seeming cost in no way lines up with her job’s salary expectations – until one day when she stumbles upon a disturbing bit of Kimi data that requires the help of law enforcement, or at least her company’s secretive higher-ups. Can Angela face her fears of venturing into the outside world in order to solve the mystery?
Employing all the trademarks of a COVID-hobbled shoot – few actors, lots of video calls, the story largely taking place in one confined space – Soderbergh attempts to pull off a Hithcock-lite thriller that is fast and fierce. Unfortunately, the script by David Koepp is dumb but not quite dumb enough, recycling a dozen ideas absent any self-awareness (save for the very last 10 minutes, which effectively employ two dramatic devices that I’m going to call Chekhov’s Nail Gun and the Beastie Boys Effect).
Soderbergh, once again acting as his own cinematographer and editor, pulls out nearly every cinematic trick he has to elevate Koepp’s material, but the film too often tip-toes when it should run: Every narrative and character beat feels muted, as if the tech-thriller is being apologetic for its own place within the genre.
And for a film engineered around the strength of one central performance, Kravitz doesn’t feel quite up to the task. Angela’s fears are largely conveyed by the fluidity of Soderbergh’s camera rather than the language of his star’s face and body. When she finally ventures outside, and Kravitz is afforded the opportunity to interact with anyone else, Kimi the film feels as believable and real as Kimi the product. But trapped indoors (however fabulously appointed those indoors are), the star and her film struggle to breathe.
Perhaps Kimi will age better in a year or two, as we inch our way to post-COVID normalcy. At the very least, Soderbergh will have made half a dozen other films by then that we can talk about instead.
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