THE CIRCLE [PG-13] D
Speculative science fiction adaptations work best when well-developed characters encounter a premise with thrilling immediacy. Take, for instance, “Ex Machina,” where a megalomaniac tech giant (Oscar Isaac) lures a talented but insecure programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) into a testing scenario with a seductively self-aware android (Alicia Vikander) and you can see how this was a recipe for a fascinating and alluring showdown. On the flips side, director James Ponsoldt teams up with novelist Dave Eggers to tackle the idea of an unchecked social media company insinuating itself into all aspect of our lives in “The Circle,” but we never appreciably feel the insidious reach of the software or get a clear sense of the players, starting with Mae (Emma Watson), the young protagonist hired by the firm who inexplicably becomes a pawn in a dangerous scheme, supposedly set in motion by the company’s leader (Tom Hanks). “The Circle” comes across like a hastily drawn sketch with no defining shape, which is too bad since we live in an age where the fear of widespread loss of privacy looms large and could have granted the story sharp and stunning detail.