These big moments aren’t impressive enough to make “Simulant” more than the bargain bin sci-fi pastiche it obviously is. But there’s some appreciable consideration shown to the movie’s Simulants, or Replicant-like synthetic humans, which gives a slight edge to this otherwise unconvincing robo-noir ripoff.
Shameless and sleepy from scene one, “Simulant” begins with an Isaac Asimov-cribbed list of robot commandments that must be obeyed by all Simulants, an already socially integrated group of people-presenting robots. These four precepts are simple enough and hard-wired into the coding of every Simulant, basic stuff like you can’t kill a human, and you must obey human laws.
A low-stakes chase ensues: Esme (Alicia Sanz) slowly gets away from government Agent Kessler (Sam Worthington), a robot-hunting dick working for the near-omnipotent Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement agency. Kessler, unlike jaded sci-fi fans, is amazed that Esme could not only (momentarily) run away from him, but also disobey and even physically wound him. What is going on with these Simulators? A bland guy investigates.
Meanwhile, another tale of the too-familiar future unfolds: dutiful but confused wife guy Evan (Robbie Amell) chases after his rich and very busy wife Faye (Jordana Brewster). He remembers surviving a car crash but can’t recall much more; she doesn’t want to talk about it but soon must. A little more than 20 minutes into the movie, we, too, learn Faye and Evan’s dark secret: he’s a Simulant of the real Evan, who died vehicularly. This canned revelation at least explains the weird tension between Evan and Faye (it’s not like it used to be, baby!). Evan’s discovery also inadvertently leads him to the shady Casey Rosen (Simu Liu), a Simulant expert who’s clearly not as harmless as he appears.
(A MILD, BUT NECESSARY SPOILER) Eventually, Kessler’s search for answers leads him to Casey, but not before he watches Esme get re-programmed against her wishes. Director April Mullen and writer Ryan Christopher Churchill understandably dwell on this traumatic event because if Esme is more human than even tough-talking Kessler thinks, her feelings are not only “zeros and ones,” as he puts it. This scene’s probably the most impressive in the movie, not only because it’s affecting but also because it’s a clear declaration of intent. The makers of “Simulant” want you to imagine, despite all of our generic foreknowledge, that this robot’s pain matters.