I, Robot (2004)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2004 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  ***

It's man against the machines. No, it's not TERMINATOR 4 but I, ROBOT, which plays like this year's MINORITY REPORT. A smart -- albeit with a troubling number of logical flaws -- sci-fi film, I, ROBOT is an intriguing movie that is a thinking person's action picture. Although it has plenty of humor, it expects to be taken quite seriously. It starts as a murder mystery and quickly blossoms from there into a movie with a lot on its mind.

Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a surly detective who has a definite prejudice against the earth's fastest growing race -- robots, "harmless" helpers who are literally everywhere. The friendliest and sweetest is one is named Sonny (Alan Tudyk). This life-sized E.T. of a figure is the prime suspect in a murder case. His creator, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), has died, and Spooner, but no one else, suspects Sonny must have killed the good doctor in a death currently labeled as a suicide. Calling in the political power that being the richest person on earth affords him, Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the CEO of the robotics firm (USR), gets any attempt to sully the reputation of his mechanical wonders quickly quashed. Bill Gates could only dream of such clout.

There are "three laws" governing robotic behavior that were originally devised by writer Isaac Asimov. These laws could be summarized to say that a robot can never harm a human. USR's corporate slogan is "USR: Three Laws Safe."

The movie makes some infuriating mistakes and poor decisions. The story is supposed to occur in Chicago in 2035, but the sets are a confusing blend of 1950 and 2235. If you really believe that we are going to advance this much in just thirty years, I have a robot I want to sell you. What is clear is that the distant future is made of blue screens and CGI effects while the retro past look is done with traditional sets. Although there are numerous little irritants, none is more needlessly wrong than the time Spooner and his helper, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan, THE RECRUIT), quickly climb a flight of almost three-thousand steps and arrive at the top floor of a gigantic skyscraper not the least bit out of breath. Man, what great shape they must be in.

Most of story has Spooner following a fascinating series of clues that Dr. Lanning has left him. Spooner likens the clues to Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. As Spooner tries to find out why the doctor couldn't just tell him his secrets directly, Spooner keeps being ambushed by rogue robots but can't get anyone to believe him. Flaws and all, I, ROBOT is always fun and thought-provoking without ever being pretentious or silly. It may not be a great film, but it is definitely one of this summer's better blockbusters.

I, ROBOT runs 1:55. It is rated PG-13 for "intense stylized action, and some brief partial nudity" and would be acceptable for kids around 9 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 15, loved it, giving it *** 1/2. He thought that it was really cool and fun, with great action and special effects. He especially liked the whole idea behind the story. And he thought it was funny too.

The film is playing in nationwide release now in the United States. In the Silicon Valley, it is showing at the AMC theaters, the Century theaters and the Camera Cinemas.

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