The Companion (1994): Love Machine

Matty shacks up with Bruce Greenwood’s electronic lover.

In a 2001 interview with The Washington Post, Bruce Greenwood likened his career to a three-legged stool. The first leg, the Thirteen Days (2000) star explained, is his feature film work. The second leg is his distinguished television work. And the third, in Greenwood’s words,  is a leg of “absolutely appalling TV movies”. [1] Ouch. Here’s hoping he doesn’t consider THE COMPANION among that bracket — because this sci-fi item, which debuted on the USA Network on 13th October 1994, is a modest treat and Greenwood submits a wonderfully unhinged performance. 

After walking in on her sleazy, no-good boyfriend (a pre-Malcolm in the Middle/Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) in bed with a younger woman, put upon romance novelist Gillian (Kathryn Harold) is persuaded by her agent (Talia Balsam) to buy the eponymous service droid, Geoffrey. Whisking Geoffrey away with her to a secluded woodland cabin while she pens her latest schmaltz opus, Gillian is initially spooked by his uncanny valley appearance and irritated by his characterless subservience — until she starts messing around with his settings and realises that the tin-man could, in fact, be programmed into becoming the type of dream suitor she writes about. However, each booting session comes with its own set of adverse effects, and soon Geoffrey is transformed from an attentive robotic lover to an obsessive and dangerous killing machine.

Growing increasingly wilder and more frightening and relentless as The Companion progresses, Greenwood is excellent as Geoffrey; a Casanova-cum-Terminator whose initial creepy-funny hardware quirks (such as his factory set guard mode, which finds him standing perfectly still and grinning like a Cheshire Cat) suggest a sort of inevitability to his subsequent psycho-stalker sentience. After all, as Ian Seeberg’s big-thinking — if not entirely well fleshed out — script ponders, is Geoffrey’s metamorphosis really due to Gillian’s tinkering? Or is it the result of a fundamental design flaw that reflects a sad truth about human male behaviour? Complementing Greenwood is Harold’s assured turn and a colorful supporting cast that includes James Karen, Earl Boen, and Brion James (those last two must be a nod to The Terminator (1984) and Blade Runner (1982), right?).

Though struggling a little with The Companion’s slightly flabby midsection, Gary Fleder — who’d go on to helm the Tarantino-lite Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995) and inoffensive studio efforts Kiss the Girls (1997) and Don’t Say a Word (2001) — infuses the film with a welcome splash of humour that plays up a few now amusingly prescient touches (eBooks! FaceTime!) and possesses a keen eye. Indeed, on a purely aesthetic level, The Companion is a strong contender for one of the best looking small screen epics of its decade. Beginning as a sleek bit of cyberpunk, cinematographer Rick Bota has a ball juxtaposing the standard smoky, Ridley Scott-esque stylistics of the film’s opening reel with the lush sylvan scenery that occupies the bulk of it. 

Produced by Michael Phillips (The Sting (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and, at the far less prestigious end of the spectrum, Fleder’s later sci-fi turkey Impostor (2001)), The Companion was released on VHS on either side of the Atlantic by a pair of respective companies affiliated with each of the USA Network’s then owners, MCA and Paramount: MCA Universal Home Video in the U.S. and CIC Video here in the U.K.

USA ● 1994 ● Sci-Fi, TVM ● 93mins

Kathryn Harrold, Bruce Greenwood, Talia Balsam, Brion James ● Dir. Gary Fleder Wri. Ian Seeberg

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