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I, Robot

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: I, Robot

Starring: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Alex Proyas
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: July 2004
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Aaron Douglas, David Haysom, Shia LaBeouf, Peter Shinkoda, Emily Tennant

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Science fiction movies, like those of any other genre, must be entertaining to be watchable. What makes for grand entertainment? The stories should be infused with warmth, humanity, wit, humor, and, of course, since sci-fi is concerned more about the future than the past, with special effects. For warmth and humanity, you can't do much better than Chris Colombus's "Bicentennial Man," about a family that buys an all-purpose robot which turns out to have human emotions and to want, more than anything else, to be a human being. For special effects, we think first of the "Star Wars" series, films that attempt to make up for their lack of humanity with awesome computer generated imagery. There is one more element possessed by the best of science fiction pics, and that is satire. A look at a society of the future can be a way of showing the writers' and directors' visions of what is going wrong with our own era. Think of Michael Anderson's "Logan's Run," which takes place in the year 2274, exhibiting a society that dissolves human beings when they become "useless" at age thirty. America may not use thirty as a cut-off point, but try getting a good job once you've reached the age of fifty, especially if you want to start anew and tackle a different field from the one that has burned you out.

Alex Proyas's "I, Robot," possesses all of the above requirements for the genre. For humor, think Will Smith, who does best in comic roles. Consider his comic talents in the TV role that made made his name a household word, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," or the studied indifference he adopts in Barry Sonnenfeld's "Men in Black." He can do just fine in more serious work, such as his enactment of the serene interloper who might be Sidney Poitier's son in Fred Schepisi's "Six Degrees of Separation." He's pretty-much given his head in "I,Robot, where his cool dude persona as Detective Del Spooner contrasts amiably with the stiffness of the automatons constructed and given mechanical life by the scientists at a robotics corporation. Yet surprisingly enough, the best parts of the movie take place when Smith visits his mom, a woman he'd obviously love even if she had never baked for him a sweet potato pie.

The audience, however, is likely to show up for "I, Robot" for its kick-butt special effects, and ticket buyers get what they came for as Proyas ("The Crow," "Dark City") unwraps the thousands of robots turned out by the company to do not only the jobs that human beings find tiresome, but those that require a modicum of soignee as well. (Think of these metal objects acting as maitre d's at restaurants like "Nobu" and "The Cote Basque" or whatever stands in for those memorable establishments in the Chicago of 2035 that we drop into.) The fights between humans and robots and the internecine battles as well, pitting metal against metal, occur when some of the creations of the chief scientist, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) "evolve" to the detriment of the warm-blooded civilians in the story. The robots appear to rebel against the immutable Three Laws of Robotics, which are: 1) A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human begins to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

The rebellion of Chicago's servants is not exactly what it seems. We learn–too late in the game when that important element of sci-fi, the satirical influence, is announced rather than conveyed subliminally –that they act not out of hate for their human creators like the thousands of Frankenstein monsters that they seem to be, but are doing so for our own good. In other words, the laws, in their interpretation, are not violated at all.

As Detective Spooner, who owes a personal debt to Dr. Alfred Lanning, pursues the runaway robots with the help of robot programmer and psychiatrist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) and despite the resistance of the company's CEO, Lance Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) and Spooner's boss, Lt. John Bergin (Chi McBride), we enjoy the incredible special effects created by computers, the creations looking every bit like real statues turned out by F.A.O. Schwartz. The robots turn somersaults and climb walls like Spiderman, but like Spidey they are not immortal. Police guns can disable them but as they surround their human resistors, we get the impression that their sheer numbers will mean the end of humanity in Chicago.

There is, however, one robot who is unique, different from the others and, in fact, is given a name: Sonny (Alan Tudyk) . Sonny can feel human emotions like anger, sadness and joy, allowing him to serve as liaison between the people and his own kind.

Where "I, Robot" falls short, however, is in emphasizing the battle scenes at the expense of the human. Though we watch Dr. Calvin evolve in her own way under the influence of the laid- back Spooner from a stick-in-the-butt scientist speaking in scientific jargon to a warm human being who speaks English, and take pleasure in the dialogue between Spooner and his boss, Lt. Bergin, the battles supplant the development of character that is, or should be, obligatory in movies of any genre. "I, Robot," is inspired by the nine short stories of Isaac Asimov in his book of interrelated tales of the same title.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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