Asimov betrayed for a Converse adJust how seriously does one take a movie that starts with scenes obviously set up to show its lead actor shirtless and musclebound, while incorporating blatantly commercial plugs for Converse sneakers and Fed Ex?
A movie which, like “I, Robot,” is “suggested” by the stories of Isaac Asimov ― one of the pioneers of adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction ― and directed by Alex Proyas, who made cult movies like “Dark City” (1998) and “The Crow” (1994), should be a brutal, supreme type of cool.
First of all, the aforementioned lead actor is Will Smith. I’m a Smith fan, but the gettin’-jiggy-wit’-it Prince of Bel Air lacks the naive detachment of, say, Ethan Hawke in “Gattaca” (1997), the brooding vulnerability of Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner” (1982) or even the intense despair of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” (2002). That’s not to say Smith can’t handle the role of Del Spooner, a tormented Chicago homicide detective in the year 2035. Smith just doesn’t give the detective emotional depth. What he does provide is sass, and an ocassional blank gaze that I’m guessing is supposed to convey Deep Feelings.
Then again, none of the characters are emotionally developed, except for, ironically, the robot Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Not only does Sonny have the film’s best facial expressions (a wink at just the right moment) and an expressive, emotional voice (how can Spooner dislike someone with a voice like that?), he has super strength.
Sonny is one of millions of what’s known as NS5, the latest model from U.S. Robotics. The company, built on the genius of the scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), is set to roll out its largest shipment of robots yet ― one for every five humans. But Lanning is found dead on the U.S. Robotics lobby floor, apparently having jumped from his office many stories above.
When Detective Spooner, who has a deep mistrust of robots, is called in to investigate, he finds Sonny hiding in Lanning’s office. Spooner investigates with the help of Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a U.S. Robotics psychologist whose job it is to make the robots more human.
The investigation by the cold psychologist and the one-liner-spewing protagonist yields evidence that the Three Laws of Robotics invented in Asimov’s fiction ― that a robot 1) mustn’t harm a human, 2) must obey humans’ orders except when they conflict with law 1, and 3) must protect itself except when that conflicts with laws 1 or 2 ― are not the only laws governing robots.
This is probably why, despite using the title of one of his books, the movie claims only to have been “suggested” by Asimov, for whom I feel righteous indignation. It’s like calling a poem a sonnet in iambic pentameter when it’s none of the above. Asimov’s stories stayed within the parameters of the Three Laws, exploring their possibilities; the movie brushes that vision aside, but never improves on it.
What gives the movie a huge dose of viewability are the visuals. There are some amazing visual effects, from a chase scene involving an Audi (a more digestible example of product placement, since the car is actually used) to the robots themselves. The action scenes and the robots are worth seeing on the big screen. But for intellectual stimulation, read Asimov.
Action, Drama / English
by Joe Yong-hee