*** (out of 5)
July 16, 2004
Will Smith as DEL SPOONER
Bridget Moynahan as SUSAN CALVIN
Alan Tudyk as SONNY
James Cromwell as DR. ALFRED LANNING
Bruce Greenwood as LAWRENCE ROBERTSON
Chi McBride as LT. JOHN BERGIN
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Alex Proyas
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Hollywood has always had a fascination with robots. Ever since Frankenstein (arguably the first robot story), we’ve seen robots that have been good, bad, cute, evil and often disturbing. However, will all the relish Hollywood has for these mechanical men, they usually cast them as mere sidekicks or curiosities. Even with the technology behind Lucasfilm, it is rare to see a decent robot film.
In most respects, “I, Robot” achieves this. By crediting author Isaac Asimov as having “suggested” the story, they have avoided the criticism from everyone but Harlan Ellison that the movie is nothing like Asimov’s original book. Not having read the complete “I, Robot” book, I can’t talk about the changes in the story and characters, although I will assume there are many.
But on it’s own, “I, Robot” plays a decent hand. It tells the story of a technophobic detective named Spooner (Will Smith) who is brought in on a murder investigation in which a robot is the prime suspect. Some folks find this hard to believe because all robots are programmed with the 3 laws of robotics, which make it impossible for them to harm a human being. As Spooner investigates, he uncovers a mysterious secret behind the robots.
“I, Robot” takes place in 2035, which is less than 30 years away. Now, I know a lot can change in 30- years, but much of the changes we’ve seen since 1975 are basically superficial in our own society. I have to hand it to the production design team of “I, Robot.” With the exception of some elaborate freeway sequences that seem a little too much to “Minority Report,” most of the design of this film is entirely believable, given the fact that robots are walking around. There is an excellent blend of high technology with everyday life.
Of course, “I, Robot” is not without its faults. There is an old saying in computer programming that all errors are human errors. Even if the machine malfunctions, this is a result of human error in the programming. Otherwise, machines are assumed to be perfect. (Of course, the folks who still believe this probably haven’t used Microsoft Windows lately.)
If you subscribe to this theory, the faults in “I, Robot” are simply the result of human error. Perhaps one of the biggest human errors in the film was to let Will Smith have so much control. It’s not that Will Smith was bad choice to play Spooner. There are some real moments in the film of real acting and genuineness. The problems come, however, when Will Smith tries too much to be Will Smith.
He mugs at the camera too much. He tries to be funny too much. He tries to be the break-out “Bad Boys” action star too much. I blame Will Smith for this because it is 180 degrees out of phase with director Alex Proyas’ style. (After all, as a director, when your lead star, vehicle anchor and executive producer insist that he be allowed to make a funny about sugar in coffee, you have to comply.) It is in these moments that Smith’s human error damages the film and it ceases to be completely Proyas’ vision.
Aside from Will Smith’s ego trip love affair with the camera, the other great human error in this film is Bridget Moynahan. Sure, she’s easy on the eyes (although she is looking a bit rough in this movie), her chemistry with Smith is deplorable, and she’s left with only a handful of cliche lines. The scenes between Moynahan and Smith made me long for a robot.
And here we come to the robots, the real reason to see the movie. It may or may not come as a surprise, but Will Smith is out-acted by the robots. The main robot, Sonny, who is accused of murder and appears to have the anomalous features of human emotion, is one of the best things in the film. Rather than falling into the standard cliche of wanting to be human, Sonny just wants to be different – to be unique. And isn’t that the desire of intelligent beings? Don’t we all want to be unique and special? We could care less about flesh and bone. In this respect, Sonny trumps the human desires of machines like Data in “Star Trek.”
Overall, “I, Robot” is a pretty snazzy robot film. Sometimes it doesn’t quite know whether it wants to be a summer action flick or a more cerebral science fiction piece (human error, again). However, it does manage to do both, if you can wait through the other. But in any respect, “I, Robot” is far, far better than the last Asimov adaptation, the wretched “Bicentennial Man.” And if you can make it through the talky, preachy ending, you will see the film take the real fear in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to its full realization. Get past the human error, and it’s a decent flick.