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With ‘Atlas,’ Jennifer Lopez plus AI robots equals fuel for Netflix’s algorithm

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Say what you want about Jennifer Lopez, but streaming algorithms surely love her, which accounts for her parade of recent movies – “The Mother” (Netflix), “Shotgun Wedding” (Amazon) and “Marry Me” (Peacock), all in the last two years. Add to that “Atlas,” a nonstop sci-fi action movie that basically gets the job done with a plot that recalls Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” just with a lot more cursing.

Although “Atlas” hinges on the now ever-popular “artificial intelligence runs amok” theme, that backdrop becomes a transparent excuse to set up a bonding exercise between Lopez’s Atlas Shepherd, a brilliant data analyst who grew up with the AI robot Harlan (Simu Liu), who in turn has lead the rebellion against humanity. Atlas must then team up with another AI robot (voiced by Gregory James Cohan) in order to survive.

The movie begins by racing through the devastating AI attack triggered by Harlan, before jumping 28 years into the future, when its title character gets recruited by a pair of military types (Mark Strong and Sterling K. Brown, both underemployed) regarding an opportunity to locate and stop him. After the obligatory chatter about her bad attitude and being ill-equipped for such a mission, she tags along, at which point the film becomes very Lopez-centric for an extended stretch.

Of course, the idea of being forced to get to know the thing the protagonist hates and/or fears is a very old conceit, often explored through the prism of science fiction. In that respect, “Atlas” doesn’t turn over new ground conceptually any more than it does with its robot design, which bears a strong resemblance to the oversized armored suits featured in “Avatar” or “Aliens,” take your pick.

Still, “Atlas” more than anything wants to operate as an action movie, and director Brad Peyton – a veteran of the Dwayne Johnson vehicles “Rampage,” “Journey 2: Mysterious Island” and “San Andreas” – keeps the story moving with a check-your-brain-at-the-door level of efficiency, relying on the shorthand of how familiar almost every beat of it feels.

Netflix continues to lay down expensive bets on genre movies, with Zack Snyder’s two-part “Rebel Moon” among the more prominent recent examples. For her part, Lopez steps into a slightly different role – and wisely away from another rom-com – in her dual capacity as producer and star.

While it’s not entirely clear how the math works out on that, one needn’t be a particularly brilliant data analyst to identify the boxes Netflix is hoping to check with the J-Lo + sci-fi equation.

“Atlas” premieres May 24 on Netflix. It’s rated PG-13.

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