Dopamine

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Much like the writer whose name he shares, Dopamine hero Rand has plenty of controversial, unpopular philosophies. The film centers on his thesis that love can be reduced to simple chemical reactions brought on by hormones and pheromones and the building blocks of human life. It’s obvious from the first take what the setup and payoff of this snapshot in Rand’s life will be, and therefore up to writer/director Mark Decena to make his story interesting and his characters engaging, enough to warrant spending 90 minutes waiting for eventuality to set in. He fails, although not spectacularly, which is par for the course in a bearably mild film whose knocked-down philosophy is the only part worth thinking about.

Rand (John Livingston) spends most of his time in a tiny room with buddies and coworkers Winston (Bruno Campos) and Johnson (Rueben Grundy) programming an elaborate artificial intelligence bird called Koy Koy. With Koy Koy, Rand has created his ideal relationship — one that’s based on ones and zeroes, not emotions. Most people he meets aren’t willing to argue with his science, which sounds possible, even sensible. But when he encounters Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd), a teacher in the classroom where Koy Koy is being product-tested by children, he finds his views challenged for the first time.

When it comes down to it, Rand’s theory is bunk, just a science-supported excuse for avoiding intimacy. Once deeply in love, a relationship Rand idealizes and secretly hungers for, his mother and father are reduced to strangers as Alzheimer’s Disease hijacks his mom’s so-called chemical connections to dad and son.

Decena relies on a number of rookie crutches — for example, we know very little about Sarah until she drops a wooly mammoth-sized bomb on Rand at the end of the film’s second act that renders the entire third act a pile of Lifetime movie pap. It’s unfortunate, since the director clearly has great affection for Rand. The Koy Koy metaphor is heavy-handed, but it works well enough. But all the kindness in the world doesn’t keep Dopamine from being a bland exploration of the biomechanics and machinations of love, something that it doesn’t even do well.

Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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