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The question at the heart of Dopamine (2003), a dreamy, slightly pretentious romantic drama set in the heart of dot.commiest San Francisco, is an intriguing one: Is love just a function of biology, a pre-determined series of chemical reactions within the body that lead us to find a compatible short-term mate? Or are relationships the ultimate leap of faith? Professional computer geek Rand (Jonathan Livingston) argues the former until his theories are put to the test by pretty, haunted preschool teacher Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd), who avers that the ability to experience true love is what sets humans apart from their baser animal brethren. As the two dance around each other, advancing and retreating in the early stages of dating, they work their way from their respective extremes toward a middle ground — almost inadvertently proving that love is really about compromise and sacrifice. Naturally, Rand and Sarah are at odds from the start: She, a granola-ish schoolmarm who helps her young charges learn things like how to "get off the conflict escalator," is extremely skeptical of Koy Koy, the artificially intelligent creature Rand and his partners Winston (Bruno Campos) and Johnson (Reuben Grundy) are developing for the pre-K market. But, as so often happens in the movies, their conflict sparks quickly transform into romantic ones. Or at least that's how Sarah interprets them; Rand's insistence that their attraction is merely evolution at work threatens to nip the relationship in the bud before it really begins. Meanwhile, issues are dealt with, deep conversations are had, and many cigarettes are smoked. The whole thing is set against the dot.com backdrop, a world director/co-writer Mark Decena and co-writer/co-producer Timothy Breitbach know well, since their production company is based in San Francisco's South Park — aka Ground Zero for the hip-tech movement of the last few years. The filmmakers deserve credit for getting closer to the real dot.com life than anyone else has so far — the endless stream of burritos Rand, Winston, and Jonathan live on is a particularly good detail — but even they fall back on clichés like the nouveau hippie café girl (here played by Nicole Wilder). And while Lloyd and Livingston both turn in earnest performances, ironically, their on-screen chemistry is never strong enough to give true legitimacy to either of their positions on love; neither biological imperative nor a spiritual connection seems to be bringing them together. Dopamine is a child of Sundance — Decena and Breitbach developed the script at the Sundance Institute, the film debuted at the 2003 festival, and now the Sundance Channel brings the movie to DVD. The widescreen transfer (1.85:1) holds up well, and the Dolby Digital Stereo audio is clear. Extras include the trailer, a 15-min. "making-of" featurette, an introduction by Decena, three deleted scenes, Decena's short film "One of Those Days," and an informative commentary by Decena, Breitbach, and Lloyd. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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