Wifelike walks a narrow path through sci-fi sleaze

Wifelike walks a narrow path through sci-fi sleaze ...

Meredith (Elena Kampouris) from the uneven new streaming film Wifelike is a sort of a clone-robot hybrid, an artificial person made by the titular company, who provides companions for grieving men (and apparently only men) who have lost their spouses. It's unclear how much of a woman's personality can be transferred over to an artificial body.

Kampouris portrays Meredith for a few minutes throughout the film; most of the time, though, she inhabits the robo-companion version, with seemingly zero computer improvements to assist her performance. She only requires oddly rigid posture and body language, augmented by some makeup and excessive costuming, to appear truly uncanny, like an action-figure recreation of a well-known actress.

The appearance of Meredith and the other companions in Wifelike is precise. If only the film would make the world around them equally believable. The idea of companions is immediately muddled, as both fantastically detailed sex dolls and a compassionate treatment for agony, purposes that appear to be at odds with one another. Companions aren't sentient enough to stoke the violent liberation movement seen in the film.

The protestors arent large enough to justify a fleet of FBI agents like William (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who are hired by the Wifelike business to track down errant sex dolls like a low-rent Blade Runner. However, she is offered as more of an employment benefit than a grief medication. Is this sleaze disguised as therapeutic aids?

The perversity would be the focus in a better film. Maybe it is in this one too; its difficult to tell when Williams' obtuse case is the audiences only consistent window into the practice of doling out companions early on; Meredith does have a funny moment to herself when exploring the possibility of self-pleasure.

Meredith begins out by speaking in the third person, although it's a strange programming trait for such a vastly advanced system.

Meredith must get a waiver in order to savor William's health-threatening bacon, but sometimes Meredith needs to be taught terms that a computer would probably be able to understand quickly. Whats the benefit of that shorter learning curve for a grieving widower or a horny loser? Like the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, the movie itself is sometimes unclear about the exact how and whys of the making of companions.

Meredith's awareness grows, she becomes drawn to the Williams company and the anti-companion forces, uncovering hidden secrets, hidden memories, and so on. After 30 minutes, Wifelike starts with the sinking feeling that writer-director James Bird wishes to peel back layers of male decorousness. These qualities are equally apparent as the skimpy lingerie that the companions all appear to have on hand as accessories.

Wifelike excavates some barely concealed subtext and proudly lays it out as a text: Men subjugate women, and if their attempts to do that are stymied, theyll invent new women to subjugate others more. There are moments when the film seems ready to provocatively recast grief and loneliness as catch-all excuses for male wrongdoing, but Bird backs away from it by not including any major characters who are genuinely grieving.

Kampouris is open to either a crasser B-movie or a more reflective sci-fi chamber piece, whether its attempting to escape a cloistered domestic existence or discovering a newfound reality in William's low-rent cop-movie-level material with Jack (Doron Bell) that ultimately pushes Wifelike beyond the point of no return and into its own strange valley. What's supposed to resemble a smart, unnerving sci-

Wifelike will be released in a limited theatrical run on August 12 and is now available for streaming on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital rental and purchase platforms.