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I, ROBOT (PG-13) (2004)

Twentieth Century Fox

Official Site

Director: Alex Proyas

Producers: Laurence Mark, John Davis, Topher Dow

Written by: Jeff Vintar & Akiva Goldsman, suggested by Isaac Asimov’s book

Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk

 Rating:


First things first: The movie version of I, Robot has about as much in common with Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction work as it does with Gone With The Wind. While a couple of characters have the same names as those in the book, they are not the same people in any meaningful way. The film depicts an occasional situation or scene that is reminiscent of one from one of the Robot novels, but the universe of Asimov’s books is not that of this film. Most importantly, the Three Laws of Robotics, whose implications, exposition, and analysis form the core of almost every Robot story, play a trivial role in this film.

Asimov began writing the Robot stories because narratives of robots ignoring their programming and taking over the world were already hackneyed and implausible 50 years ago. (Why would human beings create tools that would do them harm? How could robots do other than that for which they are programmed?) Now, in the unkindest cut of all, one of these films bears his title. I dwell on this point not to establish my sci-fi bona fides (which are weak in any case), but by way of introducing what I, Robot is, and what it is not. It is not the thoughtful exploration of the nature of free will, personality, and mortality that its title might lead one to believe. It is yet another mediocre but passably entertaining action movie set in the future.

That future takes place in the year 2035, and differs most markedly from our present in the significantly greater concentration of robots. These mechanical humanoids are programmed so that harming humans is strictly verboten, and people have found them an indispensable part of modern life. Robots do manual labor that people prefer to have done for them, as well as complicated tasks that are beyond their ken.

One human, however, goes against the grain in refusing to trust the robots. He is Del Spooner (Smith), a Chicago police detective and Luddite of sorts. He enthuses about his vintage Chuck Taylors (delivered to his door by the friendly FedEx robot), listens to Stevie Wonder on his antiquated JVC CD player, refuses to allow his Audi to drive itself, and hates robots. (I, Robot is the latest in a parade of films to feature blatantly obnoxious product placement. Someone should mount a protest movement or boycott against this kind of thing; it really could not be more annoying.)

Spooner’s anti-robot attitude quickly comes to the fore, however, when the one of the early pioneers of robotics, Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him part) commits suicide by jumping through a window of a high floor of the U.S. Robotics corporate headquarters. To aid his investigation, the detective enlists the help of Dr. Susan Calvin (Moynahan), a specialist in robot psychology who works for the company. Initially cool to Spooner and his robot-hating ways, Calvin predictably loosens up as the movie goes on, trading in her lab coat and pulled-back hair for leather pants, beautiful wavy curls and a presumed attraction to our hero.

The pair quickly discover that Lanning was actually murdered by his specially designed robot Sonny (Tudyk), who would be incapable of such things had he been programmed to obey the Three Laws. Since presumably all robots are so designed, Sonny’s existence sets off a chain of questions, the investigation of which leads Spooner into a series of chases, fights, and near-escapes. I, Robot is essentially an action movie posing as a mystery. All of Spooner’s various clues and leads add up to little more than something to do while waiting for the robots to take over the world.

When they do, I, Robot proves to hold its own as action movie. Considering how much the robots are onscreen, the CGI is fairly convincing, and Smith’s Bruce Willis imitation is as good as anyone out there right now. What else do you want? Spooner’s allegedly wry asides often make him more of an asshole than a curmudgeon, and it is hard to understand why robots who are shot by the dozens will not pick up a gun and shoot back, but this film’s intended audience is not one generally interested in clever dialogue or internal logic. I, Robot is, as an old family friend used to say, good enough for who it’s for.

Unfortunately, the people it is for are not Asimov aficionados or science-fiction fans. Rumor has it that I, Robot is based on a robots-take-over-the-world script that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time, and that the Asimov elements were only added at the last minute. The story, if true, would explain a great deal. I, Robot visibly suffers from a “too-many-cooks” complex, as director Alex Proyas (The Crow) is trying to cram too many elements into one fairly weak script. The results are less than impressive, but there’s little harm done. Asimov died in 1992.

—Mike O’Connor

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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