'A.I.'? Ay-Yi-Yi!

This is an emergency message to moviegoers who've been reading rave reviews of Steven Spielberg's new film, "A.I.," and who, as a result, may be under the mistaken impression that it's good. "A.I." is, in fact, a cold, muddled, endless spectacle that attempts to be both a Spielberg movie and a Stanley Kubrick movie and ends up being neither. You certainly shouldn't take your children-despite the presence of Haley Joel Osment and his deeply annoying walking-talking teddy bear, the film's much too violent and unsettling for kids-and you should think long and hard about taking yourself.

So why are so many critics so mesmerized? Well, why did Time magazine put "Eyes Wide Shut" on the cover and call it a "masterpiece"? Why did the New York Times pretend that "Phantom Menace" didn't stink? Critics are a strange breed of people who love to be contrary and who are so sick and tired of formulaic Hollywood garbage that they tend to overcompensate by raving about movies that have anything approaching a brain. If you'd just reviewed "The Fast and the Furious," you'd think "A.I." was a work of genius, too. NEWSWEEK's own David Ansen wrote an eloquent early rave of Spielberg's movie, but at least he had the insight and honesty to acknowledge what a divisive, problematic movie it was. "'A.I.,'" he wrote, "exhilarates, frustrates and provokes: it's the most ambitious Hollywood movie in sight." What, it's better than "Pootie Tang"? Come on, you're pulling my leg!

Because "A.I." was initiated by Stanley Kubrick-and because Spielberg loaded it with homages to the late filmmaker-the movie's full of the sort of clues and references that critics love to unravel and decipher when they should in fact be telling us if the movie is horrible or not. ("Eyes Wide Shut" benefited from precisely the same beside-the-point intellectualizing. Remember all that ooh-ing and aah-ing over the color palette and the lighting? That damn thing was like a Mickey Rourke movie!) "A.I." is a gift to movie critics everywhere because it's so weird and long and willfully obscure-it meanders so far and wide in pursuit of whatever point it thinks it's making about love-that you actually do need a critic to make sense of it all.

Spielberg's movie begins as a chilly, clunkily written fairy tale about a family adopting David, a robot boy played by Osment. (The director wrote the screenplay himself. It's his first in ages, and it shows-it's full of long expositional scenes that a screenwriter not named Steven Spielberg would have been forced to cut.) Later, the family decides that the robot boy is a menace. David's kindly new mom abandons him in the woods with his teddy bear, and soon he's on the run from bounty-hunter types in a sinister, futuristic landscape, hoping against hope that he'll somehow become real so he can win back his mother's love. "A.I." is at its best in this section, partly because David teams up with a cybergigolo played with real flair and wit by Jude Law. Still, you never work up much affection for the characters. Osment's a fine actor, but the whole robot-boy thing is pretty creepy, and, anyway, why should we be rooting for little David to reunite with the mother who dumped him? The movie drags even when David's running for his life. You can always sit back and watch the cool production design and the fancy special effects, but surely a Spielberg film should deliver more than pretty lights.

"A.I." really goes off the rails in the final 30 minutes or so. New York Times critic A.O. Scott-in a rhapsodic, elegantly written, if wrongheaded rave-puts the best possible spin on it: "For a second time, the movie swerves away from where it seemed to be going, and Mr. Spielberg, with breathtaking poise and heroic conviction, risks absurdity in the pursuit of sublimity." Yes, Spielberg risks looking absurd. And guess what: he looks absurd. I don't want to ruin the ending of the movie for anybody, so I'll just say that the final section takes place into a completely different time/place/dimension. It's an entirely new movie tacked on at the end, and it's so bizarre as to induce giggles. It's as if Spielberg knew his movie wasn't working and made a desperate lunge in the final moments.

While many critics seem to have been overwhelmed by what they view as the power and audacity of Spielberg's vision-or maybe they just really miss Stanley Kubrick-others have had decidedly mixed feelings. Among them are Kenneth Turan, of the Los Angeles Times, and Joe Morgenstern, of the Wall Street Journal, who began his review thusly: "At the risk of sounding like a callous human rather than a sensitive robot who's been programmed to love, I must say that 'A.I.: Artificial Intelligence' is a grim disappointment for grown-ups and far too violent for kids." Hear, hear. It would have been nice if Spielberg and the ghost of Kubrick could have collaborated on a masterpiece about a robot who wants to be human. But the masterpiece just didn't happen, and it's foolish to pretend that it did.