© 2004 Ray Wong
Will Smith is set to “come back” as Mr. July after a few duds such as WILD WILD WEST and BAD BOYS II. He might just do it with the slick, moody sci-fi thriller I, ROBOT, which is “inspired” by a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov.
Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago cop in 2035 who has, literally, a chip on his shoulder. This is a time when robots are quickly becoming commodities much like personal computers “were” in 2004. They are governed by the three laws of robotics, and can never harm a human being. But the robot-phobic Spooner doesn’t trust them.
While investigating an apparent suicide of Dr. Lanning at U.S. Robotics, the world’s largest R&D and suppliers of robots, Spooner suspects foul play. USR is on the verge of delivering millions of the new NS-5 to the world, making the dream of “one robot in every home” a reality.
Soon, with the help of a beautiful scientist/psychiatrist, Susan Calvin, he is hot on the trail of a robotic suspect, a model NS-5 named Sonny. Despite the lack of evidence that a robot can actually harm a human, Sonny is scheduled to be ‘decommissioned’ nonetheless. When Del’s life is threatened by a horde of homicidal NS-5s, he realized that his suspicion is justified, and that the suicide is actually part of the clues of something bigger happening. Somebody has violated the three laws, and humans are in danger.
Writers Vintar and Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) have successfully strung together a chain of exciting events, albeit some cheesy dialogue and stale, cliché storytelling moments. Under director Proyas’ (DARK CITY) capable hands, the fantastical world of a 2035 Chicago comes alive on screen. There are many similarities between this film and THE MINORITY REPORT: both evolve around a murder mystery that leads to a conspiracy, and both have created a world in the near future that is both familiar and foreign. The cinematography is pleasing to the eyes, slick but not cold. The production value is top-notch. But I, ROBOT is the less intellectual, more predictable of the two.
Smith (BAD BOY II) is serviceable as Spooner, all buff (complete with a gratuitous nude scene), macho and moody. However, I find his performance one-note, incapable of realizing fully the character’s complexity. Moynahan (THE RECRUIT) is stone-cold and expressionless as Susan Calvin. I find it hard to get into her character at all, eventually not caring if she survives. Cromwell (THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) and Greenwood (THE CORE) give respectable performances in their relatively small roles. McBride (THE TERMINAL) is interesting as Spooner’s clueless, tough-sensitive boss. The iMac-like Sonny, a CGI character based on the performance of actor Tudyk (DODGEBALL), practically steals the whole show. It is unnerving to see how a CGI character manages to outperform almost every real-life actor in the film. Ironic, isn’t it, given the “technology vs. men” premise.
In a way, I, ROBOT is a slightly more sophisticated and intelligent sci-fi thriller than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood fair such as the abysmal PAYCHECK. But CONTACT it isn’t. Loosely based on Asimov’s groundbreaking stories about a future world occupied by robots, this film is still more of an action-packed thriller than a brainy sci-fi classic. Hardcore sci-fi fans, especially those who love Asimov’s original, may find the story of I, ROBOT somewhat lacking and superficial. For the rest of us, it’s a worthy summer entertainment.
Stars: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for alcohol, brief nudity, intense action/violence
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 9
Total – 7.3 out of 10