U.S. Release Date:
July 16, 2004
Director: Alex Proyas
Writer: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
Producer: John Davis, Wyck Godfrey, James Lassiter (executive), Laurence Mark, Will Smith (executive)
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Shia LaBeouf
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense stylized action, and some brief partial nudity)
For all of its impressive production design and cool gadgets, I, Robot is a clunker with perhaps the worst performance in star Will Smith's career, and a story that is so needlessly complicated and brain dead that by the time it's all over you could care less.
It's Chicago 2035 and urban planners have solved both the traffic and parking problems, and U.S. Robots (USR) has promised to put a robot into every home. Patrolling the streets of the future is detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), a confirmed robot hater, who spends his time—in Barney Fife style—busting robots for various crimes. The problem, robots can't commit crimes. This is because they are bound by the three laws of robotics, which state that robots must obey their masters and do no harm. Then one day a robot does commit a crime, murder, and Spooner is on the case ready to take his fury out on anything and everything cybernetic.
There's nothing new in I, Robot. Indeed, many of the issues only vaguely touched on have been thoroughly explored in both the movies and television for years. Any sci-fi geek can recite the three laws in their sleep, and any movie geek can tick off a dozen movies (from Frankenstein and to The Terminator series) that have chronicled what happens when man's creation tries to get the better of him.
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City) has violated the first law of good science fiction by emphasizing nifty doodads over the story. The presence of robots does not a science fiction movie make.
Inspired by Isaac Asimov's writings, the script by Jeff Vintar (Final Fantasy) and Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space) is off the assembly line. Big-wig scientist (James Cromwell) commits suicide, good guy doesn't accept it, politicos call off the investigation, good guy continues investigating, stumbling upon a convoluted plot to take over the world. Run of the mill can work if it's carried off with panache, but I, Robot fails on that level as well.
Smith plays his embittered Luddite cop almost as if this was Men in Black III. Late in the movie, we understand why he hates robots—to Smith's credit, it is his best scene—but there's little reason why he hates all of the advanced technology. The rest of the cast, including Bridget Moynahan as robot psychologist Dr. Calvin, Bruce Greenwood as USR president Robertson and Chi McBride as Spooner's police captain boss, don't transcend the cardboard nature of their roles.
I, Robot's more fundamental problem, though, is the robots themselves. Little time is spent establishing why anthropomorphized robots have been embraced by this future America, what it has meant for humanity to have robots picking up all the boring and manually demanding jobs from Fed Ex delivery to garbage collecting to bartending, and what it will mean if robots are removed from the sociological mix now that they have become a part of life. Not helping is Alan Tudyk's creepy performance as robot "hero" Sonny.
After watching Sonny for 10 minutes, it's hard not to sympathize with Spooner's goal to eliminate all robots.
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