Kimi
★★★☆☆
Steven Soderbergh’s latest piece of dashed-off content is far more watchable (and even enjoyable) than his other recent “efforts.” I have to put "efforts" in quotes because nearly all the director’s features since his so-called retirement from feature filmmaking—Unsane, High Flying Bird, The Laundromat, Let Them All Talk, No Sudden Move—play like they required little effort on the part of the filmmaker. Ever since he revolutionized indie cinema with his breakthrough debut sex, lies, and videotape..., there's been a home movie quality to Soderbergh’s work. In the past, that quality has often felt revolutionary and exciting. Recently, it's felt recycled, lazy, and disinterested.

One exception was his independently distributed 2017 heist comedy Logan Lucky, which was full of energy and exuberance, winking playfully at the audience while never failing to deliver its tightly scripted story. But after that fresh spin on a well-worn genre, Soderbergh’s cinematic scribblings have seemed like weak copies of other directors' innovations. Three years after Sean Baker shot the excellent Tangerine on an iPhone, and made it look incredible, Soderbergh shot Unsane on an iPhone and made it look... like a movie shot on an iPhone. Let Them All Talk was Soderbergh's late-to-the-party indulgence in the "let's toss out the script and let the cast improv" aesthetic that's resulted in some of the most forced and contrived film and TV of the last two decades. But, while Kimi is little more than a fun, disposable COVID-era distraction, it feels somewhat like a return to form.

Zoë Kravitz stars as Angela Childs, an apartment-bound agoraphobe who works at her computer all day for a large tech corporation. Her company's new product, Kimi, is a smart speaker that employs human workers to monitor users in order to improve the device's search algorithm. When Angela discovers recorded evidence of a violent crime, her efforts to report it are stymied. In order to save the day (and herself), she must conquer her greatest fear—leaving her apartment during the pandemic.

The script for this small-scale, mostly single-character, mostly single-location thriller is by David Koepp, writer of franchise-launching mega-blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and Spider-Man. The script of his most reminiscent of Kimi is 2002’s Panic Room. Like that film, directed by David Fincher, Kimi recalls Hitchcock's Rear Window in several key ways. Angela is a protagonist "trapped" in an apartment due to a disability, who becomes aware of what she believes is a crime, and whose own life is put in jeopardy as a result. But Koepp's script lacks the depth and consistency of John Michael Hayes’s wonderful Rear Window screenplay. And post-retirement Soderbergh is the opposite of a meticulous craftsman like David Fincher or Alfred Hitchcock. I'm glad to report that Soderbergh has given up the iPhone and his absurd use of wide-angle lenses (I guess all that pesky framing and focusing slowed down his breezy process so he just went with distorted near-fish eyes so as to avoid all that work.)  Kimi, however, is shot like a "real movie," and it features some nifty set-pieces that genuinely engage. Cliff Martinez's score and the judicious use of pop songs, especially "Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, really help.

Kravits has an intriguing screen presence but I can't say I've been bowled over by her as an actress in anything I've seen her in to date, and Kimi is no exception. Perhaps if the script actually explored the important contemporary topics it touches on—corporate surveillance, police violence, and the psychological effects of isolation and sexual violence—instead of using them as window-dressing for this slight, eager-to-feel-current little picture, she might have been able to make her character more dimensional.

Twitter Capsule:
COVID-era thriller touches on contemporary concerns without really exploring them. Kravitz is reasonably compelling as an agoraphobe content working in corporate surveillance until she discovers something more sinister. A mild return to form from "post-retirement" Soderbergh.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Produced by David Koepp and Michael Polaire

Written by David Koepp

With: India de Beaufort, Derek DelGaudio, Sarai Koo, Jaime Camil, Koya Harada, Zoë Kravitz, George Evans, Sheilla Evans, Derek DelGaudio, Robin Givens, and David Wain

Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh
Editing: Steven Soderbergh
Music: Cliff Martinez

Runtime: 89 min
Release Date: 10 February 2022
Aspect Ratio: 2.00 : 1
Color