I, Robot

Bomb Rating: 

At the end of "I, Robot," the credits note that the film was "suggested by" the book by Isaac Asimov. That's about as warm of an embrace of your source material as one might expect to see between George Bush and Michael Moore.

At the end of "I, Robot," the credits note that the film was "suggested by" the book by Isaac Asimov. That's about as warm of an embrace of your source material as one might expect to see between George Bush and Michael Moore. Here's a more appropriate credit: "opportunistically named after" or better yet, "an affront to."

It's 2035, and the most ubiquitous advancements of the 21st century seem to be robots and product placements (which number nearly half a dozen in the film's first 10 minutes). Rogue cops who play by their own rules, however, are every bit as predictable as they are in 2004.

Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) hates robots. This despite the fact that robots, guided by the "three laws" ensuring their deference to humans, have never willfully hurt anyone. When robotics scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) is found dead in the lobby of his employer, U.S. Robotics, Spooner is quick to trace the cause to a Lanning-sized hole in a window a couple of dozen stories above. Spooner further concludes that a killer robot must have tossed him through it.

The premise here basically seems to be "What if Microsoft Windows could grow legs and run around your house breaking stuff?" Robot manufacturer U.S. Robotics is a corporate monolith led by the richest man in the world, and the robots have an "automatic update" feature that downloads new software straight from headquarters. However, every once in a while there's an unfortunate bug that causes the robots to drop whatever chore they're doing and try to kill people instead. Helpfully, the robots turn red during this process so we have an important visual cue that they're now evil.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the intriguing possibility that it was written and directed by a robot. The story is so formulaic that it's practically an algorithm (rogue cop + dystopian futurescape + promising technology gone horribly awry = lots of shootin'). Will Smith plays his character with such precisely calibrated insouciance that it's uncomfortable to watch. He delivers wisecrack after wisecrack, but the film's humor subroutine apparently still needs work, because the jokes fall flat.

There's lots more to dislike about "I, Robot": Two or three "Matrix" rip-off shots that - ironically - make the movie look dated; a "shaking camera" technique applied to key special effects shots so we can't discern how cheap they are; and the following line, delivered early in the movie (paraphrased): "The entire building is under surveillance, except for the service areas." Guess how they eventually sneak in?

"I, Robot" is a major malfunction.

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