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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 Jerry Saravia
3 stars out of 4

Ever since 1982's cult classic "Blade Runner," the notion dispelled was that robots were more human than humans. Along with 2001's underrated Steven Spielberg film, "A.I.," the other notion was that robots want to become human. "I, Robot" takes the idea even further - robots want to feel human emotions and consider themselves human because their human creators intended it that way.

Set in Chicago, thirty years from now, Will Smith plays Detective Spooner, a brash, motor-mouthed cop who despises robots. You see, in this near-future, robots handle duties and jobs that most humans would have (is this an indication of the migrating U.S. jobs to Mexico, China, etc.)? These robots (who look like walking iPods and have the metallic sheen of iMacs) deliver Federal Express packages, handle household duties, protect humans from harm, throw trash into garbage trucks, and so on. There are the famous Issac Asimov Laws of Robotics (suggested, not based, on Asimov's book of the same name), which include that robots protect and never kill humans. As Spooner says, "All rules are made to be broken." The creator of U.S. Robotics, Dr. Landing (James Cromwell), apparently committed suicide, but Spooner knows better. He feels a robot had killed Landing who is now on the run. Spooner receives help from Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), an employee of U.S. Robotics whose job is to make these robots look as human as possible. Lo and behold, somebody might have messed with the robots' circuits. The robot fugitive on the run, known as Sonny, feels anger and can mimic human expressions. If he feels anger, he might use it to kill. Or he may just pound his fists on the table.

What "I, Robot" has is a sleek, unique look, and director Alex Proyas ("Dark City") eschews the subterranean look of his earlier pictures for a glossy facade, mainly due to shots of metallic surfaces that emanate a glow from reflective lights. Most scenes are shot in daylight hours, and the city of Chicago looks more densely populated with skyscrapers, including the ultra-modernist U.S. Robotics building that seems to have an upwards slope. Photographically speaking, the overall effect is of a metallic glow that can be gleaned from every frame. Even Sonny, often shown in profile, seems to be subtly glowing (understandable when there are Biblical allusions throughout the film) and he seems more real than anyone in the entire film.

As for story and in-depth characters, "I, Robot" falls somewhat short. One too many holes exist in the plot, especially when dealing with the robots and their new and improved counterparts. For instance, if robots are performing menial jobs (instead of illegal aliens or legal workers), what do the humans do for work? We even see one robot bartending! The only available jobs are for robot scientists? Apparently, the city is full of humans, so what the heck do they do for a living?

As for the human characters, we have Will Smith's Spooner who may as well have sprung from both "Bad Boys" and "Men in Black" - he has his share of one-liners, even to a cat! He is mostly an angry man and detests robots (at least his explanation of why he hates them is rather touching) yet loves listening to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Moynahan's good doctor seems more concerned with the future of robots than humans - though intentional to be sure, we never glean much insight from her. And the most underutilized character is Dr. Landing, always shown as a computer image, whose actions are never clear and quite suspect.

Proyas invested an existential edge in "Dark City," a sort of retro-1940's noir where everyone is at the service of evil aliens in trenchcoats. This time, the familiarity of city life seems corrupted, and humans are hardly the threat of the future anymore. Since Kubrick's "2001," the overriding theme has been that anything computerized or electronic is not to be trusted. Robots are the threat and they want to take over. The humans are the supporting characters.

"I, Robot" is entertaining and slight, shunning many of the late Asimov's moral themes for high-powered action scenes and sporadic one-liners. Though some useful ideas slip through this typical Hollywood summer blockbuster, one expects Alex Proyas to dig much deeper.

Copyright 2004 Jerry Saravia

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