I, Robot (2004)

Will Smith returns once again, around July 4th festivities (that’s “his” weekend, been that for years, right?), to kick some robot butt. The surprise here is that the movie is pretty good, even engaging at some points. Here’s our review.

Three things you need to know right off the bat:

1 – Will Smith’s best acting work was in “Six Degrees of Separation” back in early 90s, when he was still in that sitcom. You know, THAT sitcom. So no matter how hard he tries to “act”, his ego always takes over his charisma and it’s a shame because he has such an expressive face.

2 – Forget about Azimov’s short stories. They don’t even reference him anywhere in the movie. But this doesn’t prevent a few intelligent, intriguing concepts from squeezing into this blockbuster.

3 – After seeing Alex Proyas’ “Dark City”, over and over, and then getting the DVD, later scratching it from over-use, and getting another DVD, I can admit that I’m a big obsessed with his visual abilities. So I’m going to be biased towards his directing skills, but against Will’s acting abilities.

Yes, in a summer full of popcorn entertainment, a movie comes out that’s clearly promoted as an action flick, and yet … it manages to stir emotions, force thoughts into our numb skulls, and even make a lasting impression. Wow, how did they do it? Just as I was giving up on smart action films, along comes this “Minority Report” wannabe that’s not an embarrasment to the action genre, or the whodunit genre. It’s also a pretty spiffy sci-fi flick. Yes, I said “spiffy”.

The plot is simple – in the future, Will plays detective Spooner, wary of robots, who investigates a suicide of a famous robotics engineer – Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell). Will has some tragic past that hunts him at nights, he suspects robots in all kinds of evil plots, and indeed, for the first half of the movie, robotic accidents seem to happen around him. Is it a … conspiracy?

At the same time, a big corporate conglomerate, US Robotics, (led by Lawrence Robertson – Bruce Greenwood) is about to launch a new generation of service robots, and they really don’t need the mistrusting detective on their backs, and this prominent suicide must be solved quickly and without too many stirred pots. I can give away the rest of the story in about 20 words, but you get the point. Besides, I didn’t care much about it, since I spent most of the time admiring the visuals, and listening to Sonny – a robot with unique skills, and basics of personality.

Sonny, along with numerous CGI sequences are the real stars of the movie. I couldn’t get enough of them – the detail, attention to “machine-like” look, and this bright, but not trouble-free vision of our future just clicked with me. It’s not the dark world of “Blade Runner” or “Minority Report”, but it’s also not the flashy, colourful fiesta of “Fifth Element”. Plus, the whole emphasis on automation. Will’s character visits his mom daily so he can eat homemade meals, and his reaction when he finds out he got a servant robot makes perfect sense.

Among the cast, James Cromwell and Bruce Greenwood are great enigmas – they can be bright and open, at the same time suggesting (but not reassuring) that they may have evil plans. The female partner Susan Kalvin (Bridget Moynahan) is mostly lost – people still cannot write compelling roles for women. But you don’t really think about it as you watch yet another jaw-dropping action sequence, and wonder why do these things keep happening to poor detective Spooner.

I admire the fact that filmmakers chose to spend a little more time with the script, and character development, even though the visuals got the most resources. Enjoy this surprisingly interesting movie, before the summer is out.

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