Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: July 16th, 2004 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Alex Proyas Actors: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Jerry Wasserman
n 2035, advanced artificial intelligence and humanoid robots are a fabric of everyday life. They walk dogs, deliver packages, and take out the trash – among countless other menial tasks. Their existences and interactions with people are based on the three laws of robotics (popularized by Isaac Asimov), which encompass the notions that robots may not injure a human being, they must obey orders, and they must defend themselves from harm.
In Chicago, Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a homicide detective who carries an unshakeable distrust of robots. When he sees a robot running through a crowd while holding a purse, he naturally assumes the automaton is a thief – and not a helpful servant trying to rush an inhaler to a woman in need. It could be said that Del is racist against robots.
At the U.S. Robotics headquarters, reclusive Dr. Alfred J. Lanning (James Cromwell), a pioneer in A.I., is found dead, seemingly having leapt from an uppermost laboratory of the skyscraper. At the scene, a holographic projector is discovered, containing a message for Spooner, which summons the skeptical investigator. Upon his arrival – the eve of the largest robotic distribution in history (which will increase robots to 1 for every 5 humans) – he’s assigned a liaison, anthropomorphic designer Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). When he investigates the lab, he’s convinced that, based on all the video recording evidence in the building, it’s likely Lanning’s death was murder – and that the culprit is still inside the room.
“I suspect you simply don’t like their kind.” Will Smith is once again playing himself, full of sarcastic quips and a distinct disbelief concerning his very sci-fi environment. Even his costuming is entirely different from those around him. Most of the other characters are scripted to behave as if they belong to this world, but Smith doesn’t play by the rules. In many ways, it’s an effective decision, as he breathes life into a film stocked with boilerplate figures – from corporate goons to a tough but compromising lieutenant to an unfeeling yet highly intelligent female counterpart (“that’s highly improbable”).
“There have always been ghosts in the machines.” As Spooner digs up clues, chiefly surrounding Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a prototype model NS-5 robot that exhibits emotions entirely unusual for his programming, Del is immersed in a mystery filled with conniving, murderous players. Numerous action sequences ensue, from an unscheduled demolition robot to chases through manufacturing facilities to a staged car accident in progress. Many of these moments are suspenseful, but they’re overly dependent on CG, which lends an inescapable phoniness to the visuals. The way in which the robots acrobatically leap about, as if immune to the effects of gravity, is the main offender.
While “I, Robot” is primarily an action-based thriller, it can’t help but to examine some of the basic, fascinating concepts surrounding sentient automatons and cybernetics, including what it means to be alive (and the limits of imitating life or the boundaries of genuine consciousness), to possess free will, and to have a unique identity. Of course, the pursuit of money gets in the way of truly delving into the ethics of it all, as a conspiracy theory trumps pushing too deep into the science. But the film also lightly explores self-driving cars, voice-activated devices, nanotechnology, excessive surveillance, the computerization and interlinking of too much personal information, and the cold logic of robots with unsentimental decision-making routines. In the end, despite a few convenient coincidences (such as Spooner bumping into his young friend, played by Shia LaBeouf; or handy weapons containing unlimited ammo; or near-misses aplenty) and a smattering of ludicrous camera angles, there’s a welcome cleverness to the underlying theme of interpretation (something that can be abused by any governing body), which gives “I, Robot” an awareness and intelligence beyond that of its typical sci-fi actioner peers.
– Mike Massie