I haven’t written a review in a long time because, well, there are thousands of other reviews out there and my opinion really doesn’t matter. But along comes a movie like I, Robot which just spews lameness from so many angles I simply can’t withhold comment. This flick sucked. I suppose it’s moderately entertaining on an “oo, shiny” level, but as soon as you scratch through the chrome electroplate and try to actually think about the movie just a little it’ll only make your head hurt.
Quick summary: The year is 2038 and artificially intelligent humanoid robots are commonplace in society. Will Smith plays police detective Del Spooner, who doesn’t like all these new-fangled robots running around everwhere, walking people’s dogs and picking up their trash and making us all happy and comfortable and complacent. He gets assigned to investigate an apparent suicide, which he of course assumes is murder because there were robots around and he thinks robots are dangerous. Nobody believes him since robots are all programmed with the Three Laws that prevent them from causing any harm to a human. Spooner digs deeper and discovers that — wait for it — the robots really are dangerous, and must be stopped before they take over everything.
Better put on some safety glasses, there are a lot of cliches flying around here.
The movie tries to sell Spooner as a wise-cracking curmudgeon, but really he’s just a charmless jerk. He insults everyone he meets, solves his mysteries through a series of non-sequitirs, and is seemingly unable to fit both his ears under a hat. Yet we’re supposed to like this guy and sympathize with him and want to see him win the day against those cold machines and their shortsighted creators. Damn those unfeeling scientist types! They just won’t admit that progress and technology are bad and that fossil fuels and canvas sneakers are the way to get stuff done properly. You just can’t trust science.
Early in the film, Spooner meets the slippery CEO of US Robotics, immediately insults him, and the audience is given every clue we need to surmise within seconds that the greedy bastard is a Bad Person and probably behind the whole thing. Clearly he only cares about money and doesn’t concern himself with things like public safety and human rights. Damn those slippery CEO types! They all have huge offices at the top of tall buildings where they plot murders to protect their profit margins. You just can’t trust rich people.
The CEO sends one of his employees to take Spooner on a tour of the robot factory. Before we even see this employee, we know it’s going to be an attractive young woman. Sure enough, we meet Susan Calvin, a protege of Dr. Lanning, the father of robotics, author of the Three Laws, and recently deceased in the aforementioned apparent suicide. Calvin mourns the loss of her friend and mentor and stands by his work, thinking Spooner is a callous insensitive jerk (which he is) who knows nothing about how robots work (he doesn’t). They dislike each other, and yet — surprise — there seems to be a strange attraction between them. Damn those intelligent female types! They all have deep issues preventing them from opening themselves up to men, and instead they crawl into their shell and remain ignorant of the world when all they really need is an aggressive manly-man to wake up their inner submissive housewife. You just can’t trust women.
While investigating Lanning’s lab, Spooner and Calvin discover a wayward robot who is showing some erratic, almost human-like behavior. Spooner instantly leaps to the conclusion that it must be the murderer, and once the robot is captured Spooner begins to interrogate it in an abusive and completely unprofessional manner. Damn those advanced artificial intelligence types! They’re so polite and helpful and never understand what all the fuss is over these silly human “emotions” they keep hearing about. Luckily the designers had the forethought to install a big red light in the robots’ chests to indicate when they are in Evil Mode. You just can’t trust technology.
The plot points can be seen a mile off, and even the big surprise twists are small predictable wiggles. The characters are shallow and unlikable, apart from Sonny, the only halfway complex character with actual motivations, and he’s a freaking robot. The production design and visual effects are impressive, with a few midly thrilling yet mostly unneccessary action sequences. But all the pretty pixels in the world can’t make up for a dumb story populated by dumb people.
Hollywood underestimates us again
This movie is not adapted from the stories by Isaac Asimov. It was originally a screenplay called “Hardwired,” which got shopped around to various film studios and went through different stages of development for several years. It finally landed at Fox, which recently acquired the film rights to Asimov’s story. Seeing an opportunity to cash in on brand recognition, a few minor tweaks were made, some characters renamed, the famous Three Laws integrated into the story, and we arrived at this crap-flashy spectacle of a popcorn flick. Poor Isaac must be spinning in his grave.
Asimov’s writing is the epitome of intellectual science fiction, and his robot stories are especially introspective, classic noodlers about free will and paradox. In good sf, reasoning and technology are the means by which humankind can progress, advancing beyond the base instincts for violence and fear. But Hollywood just can’t seem to grasp this. In an effort to sell more tickets and appeal to the lowest common denominator, Hollywood’s brand of science fiction feeds off the average yokel’s unwillingness to learn new things. They think science is cold and technology is scary, hokey religions and old-fashioned violence is a much easier solution. If you need an example of typical Hollywood sf, just recall Luke Skywalker turning off his sophisticated targeting computer to feel his way to the violent mass-murder of every soul aboard the Death Star.
Hollywood movies have no room for subtlety and nuance. The American mass market wants to cheer their heros and boo their villains and to instantly recognize their archetypes. Or so Hollywood would have us think. The dumbing-down of I, Robot is made even more tragic because it represents the selling-out of Alex Proyas, who brought us one of the best and most creative sf films in recent memory when he wrote and directed Dark City in 1998. That movie still had plenty of action, and even a neat and tidy happy ending, but it never insulted our intelligence. So if you’re given the choice, skip I, Robot and spend your money on Dark City on DVD.