I, Robot is a smart concept made pointless by stupid humans
Almost all the films I find disappointing, boring or pandering to the masses are championed by television film critics Joel Siegel and Gene Shalit. Siegel and Shalit are especially annoying in their tendency to apply what only they could construe as clever hook-lines (Siegel on The Terminal: “Zeta-Jones is terminally gorgeous!” or, worse even, ‘Get out of the way—Dodgeball is a hit!'). The fact that Siegel loves I, Robot only supports my theories. It is a bad film.
From the beginning, Will Smith and director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) would rather fixate on the Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star Tennis Shoes on Smith’s feet than the moral weight his shoulders should carry as Detective Del Spooner. In a blatant example of product placement, the sneakers themselves receive so much attention they merit space in the cast credits.
Will Smith is a funny guy, and he proved himself a dramatic heavyweight in Michael Mann’s Ali, yet he doesn’t appear to know how to play this role. Perhaps Smith’s detective Spooner should spend less time getting jiggy with potato pie and his sweet Chuck Taylor’s and more time with the bottle contemplating swallowing the barrel of his pistol. These are dark times, and Smith’s character has legitimate concerns.
I, Robot is set in 2035 Chicago, a future inspired by Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories by the same name. Unlike Blade Runner‘s dirty atmospheric drizzle, Robot‘s future is shiny and streamlined with skyscrapers pointing heavenward. Robots are a common sight, working as assistants to humans or even alone performing less-than-attractive duties, such as sanitation worker. Spooner is highly cynical about society’s all-encompassing acceptance of the robots. He understands that human beings make decisions that have nothing to do with the science of probability and percentages. In his world, success has been achieved in programming artificial intelligence but may never be found where humans excel most: in matters of the heart.
The detective is assigned to a case involving the murder of Doctor Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who worked at U.S. Robotics owned by Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood). It appears a robot by the name of Sonny did the dirty work. This would imply that one of the Laws of Robotics (programmed guidelines to insure human safety) has been violated and an uneasy line crossed.
The only one who is questioning the fallibility of the robots and thus trying to stop another robot from committing murder or the entire lot of them from enslaving the human race is the man in the sweet pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
Dr. Susan Calvin—played by Bridget Moynahan (The Recruit), who, remarkably, has even less personality than the robots—is a psychologist who specializes in robots and is outspokenly skeptical, as is everyone around Spooner, that a robot could possibly commit murder. Events transpire that begin to sway the good doctor toward Spooner’s mindset that something terrible is amiss in Robotville.
If it is true that robots want to take over the planet, however, one might need more arch support than a pair of canvas shoes can offer while fleeing homicidal machinery.
I, Robot is not excruciating to sit through; it’s just a smart concept executed carelessly. What does technological advancement cost us in terms of character and humanity? I, Robot had the opportunity to delve into such issues and failed miserably.