Will Smith returns to July glory with I, Robot, an entertaining and effective summer blockbuster very roughly based on the Isaac Asimov story.
Smith stars as Del Spooner, a police detective who is living in the year 2035, a time when robots do all of our mundane chores. On the eve of the massive introduction of the latest robot design, the NS5, the original designer of the robots (James Cromwell) plummets to his death in an apparent suicide. Spooner, a man deeply prejudiced against robots, is assigned to the case and immediately begins to suspect a cover up - and that a robot has committed the crime, something unheard of in history. Of course, no one believes him, even after he is attacked countless times, but it is only a matter of time before people realize that they made a mistake by placing absolute trust in their machines.
While fans of Asimov will cringe at this summer action version, which undoubtedly bears little resemblance to his vision, the core moral of his story remains - that even with three absolute laws, life will find a way to adapt and twist those laws. I, Robot raises several interesting questions; unfortunately, those same questions have been done many times before, in films ranging from Terminator to Blade Runner. Some of these films (including the two aforementioned movies) do a better job overall, but I, Robot proves that there still is an appeal for this kind of story. Overall, the plot is fairly intriguing and much better than I expected. I had very low expectations going into the movie but it is actually very effective in many ways. I, Robot maintains a good level of suspense, has some good character development - especially with the robot named Sonny - and has a few twists thrown in for good measure.
Smith is good in the lead, using the same charm that led him to box office stardom with Independence Day and Men in Black. He isn't as funny here as he was in other movies, but that is mainly due to the fact that some of the jokes in I, Robot just fall flat on their face. It appears as though the original screenplay was completely serious, but, when it was decided that Smith would be in starring, jokes were crammed in for the sake of having jokes. That being said, there are some lines that Smith pulls off very well. On the other hand, Bridget Moynahan, best known for The Recruit, is rather dry and uninteresting. Her character is so lacking depth that she at times seems more robotic than the robots. Her character does improve as time goes on, but still it is hard to connect with her. Thankfully, the screenwriters were nice and decided not to cram a relationship storyline down our throats.
What was most surprising about I, Robot is its special effects, which, in the previews, appeared to be absolutely horrendous. This is because, in the previews, the action scenes are focused on most - which, unfortunately, are the weakest part of the movie. The more detailed special effects, those of the robots up close, are absolutely stunning. Every aspect of the robots is amazingly convincing, all the way from their transparent faces to the way they walk. In contrast, the graphics are absolutely terrible when viewed at from afar, such as when the robots are attacking in bulk. The special effects team behind the film apparently are unable to do a lot of motion, because the movie just grinds to a halt when the action scenes begin.
Specifically, the worst parts of the movies are the action scenes. The plotting scenes, which actually take up about 85 percent of the movie, are well done and fun to watch, but the action is just terrible. I, Robot proves that completely computer generated action scenes do not create the same level of suspense that stunt scenes do, and second, that poor computer graphics make dull action scenes even worse. The "car chase" sequence that takes place in the freeway tunnel is a perfect example - not only is it not suspenseful in the slightest, but it isn't even remotely believable. Whoever thought of the scene should be shot immediately.
The special effects plague other parts of the film as well, including the climax, which is just a jumbled mess of shooting, jumping and robots coming out of the wood works. It appeared as though the director was trying to go the way of Star Wars, when he really shouldn't have.
I, Robot is a movie that truly exceeds expectations for the most part but really under whelms in what should have been its strongest point - the action. The story and the execution of the story are surprisingly sound, and Will Smith does a good job in the lead, but those looking for a purely popcorn action flick may be disappointed by the poorly-done CGI action scenes. The special effects devoted to the individual robots are amazing, but the rest of the graphics really hurt the film in a few key spots.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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