I, Robot (2004) Movie Review

You have to wonder why Hollywood decided to make a movie from something as famous and cherished as Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”. Then again, considering that director Alex Proyas (“Dark City”) has made nothing even remotely resembling Asimov’s novel, that question is probably moot. Having invented phrases like “inspired by” and “based on a true story”, the 2004 big budget incarnation of Asimov’s pioneering robotics work hits the screen with the tag “suggested by”. I tell ya, whoever said Hollywood has lost all traces of creativity hasn’t met the gremlins working in the PR department.

“I, Robot” stars ex-rapper turned TV star turned comedic actor turned Summer Event Film champ turned real actor Will Smith, who proved once and for all he was serious about this whole “acting” thing when he transformed himself, literally and figuratively, for Michael Mann’s “Ali”. Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago Homicide cop in the year 2035. Not that you’d recognize this futuristic landscape, as it seems highly dubious the world could have become a semi-grounded version of “The Jetsons” in just another 30 years. Didn’t they promise us jetpacks, robot servants, and trips to a moon city via transporter by the year 2000?

Something of a techno-phobic, Spooner seems like the perfect man to call in when renown scientist Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the Godfather of the movie’s robotics revolution, takes a swan dive out of his office window and onto the plush and sterile lobby of U.S. Robotics, “I, Robot’s” version of Microsoft. Playing Bill Gates is Bruce Greenwood, who actually doesn’t have much to do except show up every now and then to show what a privileged jerk he is. To solve the case, Spooner teams up with robot psychiatrist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), who also works for U.S. Robotics and has access to secure locations within the giant corporation. A bit of a cold fish, Calvin is more at home working with machines than she is around the wisecracking Spooner.

It turns out that Spooner being called in to investigate Lanning’s “suicide” wasn’t luck of the draw after all. Lanning, who had isolated himself from the world in the months before his death, seems to be leaving clues for Spooner to follow. Bread crumbs, if you will, that leads to a dangerous conspiracy involving U.S. Robotics’ giant rollout of their newest robot model. In a few days, there will be one robot for every human on the planet, and Greenwood’s Capitalist Pig plans on making even more billions. Or is that gazillion? Since everything about the film’s view of the future is so out there, why should currency remain boring dollars and cents?

Speaking of which, “I, Robot” definitely benefits from its Hollywood budget. The film is polished, the CGI and effects work are all but seamless, and you can clearly see where the money went — they’re everywhere. Directed by Alex Proyas, who gave us the sensational “Dark City”, but missed the mark entirely with the CGI-filled “Garage Days”, “I, Robot” is a brainless action film with a $100 million dollar price tag. It’s gorgeous to look at, but then again you don’t expect anything less considering the money they spent on this thing. Visually, the film is just as wild with its technology as Spielberg’s “Minority Report” — which is to say none of this will ever come to pass.

Which makes you wonder why the filmmakers didn’t set the film farther in the future. Why 30 years? Why not 50? Or 100? I could buy servant robots walking the dog and cooking dinner in 2104, but 2035 is a little hard to swallow. Not that credulity matters in this case. “I, Robot” was made to be a rollercoaster ride, not a brainy film. Having said that, claiming that this version of “I, Robot” is “suggested by” Asimov’s book is a bit of a slap in the face. Almost as much of a slap as crediting the three laws of robotics to the fictional Alfred Lanning.

Approached as a strictly Summer Event film, “I, Robot” is not bad. It’s mostly entertaining, and I’ve grown to appreciate Will Smith’s charms and wisecracks. So sue me, but the guy has grown on me. Bridget Moynahan certainly doesn’t hurt the film’s aesthetics either. That body, those lips… I’m not saying Moynahan has gotten by on her supermodel good looks, but I am saying she probably didn’t have to work as hard as, say, Roseanne Barr to cut a swath through Hollywood’s big studio movies. (The mostly unknown Moynahan counts “The Recruit” and “The Sum of All Fears” among her burgeoning filmography.) As the cold Calvin, Moynahan is a bit off, coming across as mostly dull and uninteresting. Not that it matters. The woman is great to look at, and in a movie of “I, Robot’s” intellectual depth, that’s more than enough to quantify her as a success.

I would recommend looking to “I, Robot” for popcorn entertainment, but devotees of Asimov’s book will no doubt be tremendously disappointment. Then again, if they had seen the trailers (which, it should be mentioned, gives away everything), and still went into “I, Robot” expecting an intelligent murder mystery, they deserve to get bamboozled.

Alex Proyas (director) / Isaac Asimov (suggested by book), Jeff Vintar (screen story), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
CAST: Will Smith …. Del Spooner
Bridget Moynahan …. Susan Calvin
Alan Tudyk …. Sonny
James Cromwell …. Dr. Alfred Lanning
Bruce Greenwood …. Lawrence Robertson

Buy I, Robot on DVD