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I, Robot **1/2
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Det. Del Spooner: Will Smith
Susan Calvin:  Bridget Moynahan
Albert Robertson:  Bruce Greenwood
Directed by Alex Proyas

Robots are known to prevail in most staring contests.

I, Robot is a cinematic M&M.  Underneath the thin candy shell of profound meaning and intellect lays the Hollywood-manufactured sugary confection.  It’s the typical confection of big budget would-be blockbusters: expensive special effects, sarcastic lead with catch phrases and attitude to spare.  That’s not all bad, but it is not anything to write home about.

I, Robot centers around Detective Del Spooner, or “Spoon” to his friends, co-workers, and casual acquaintances.  Spooner is rejoining the force after a nightmare-inducing event that apparently caused him to take time off.  He is having one of those nightmares when we first see him.  Cops coping with regrets serve as common material for Hollywood screenwriters, but I imagine cops do have regrets, so I kept watching.  We learn that Spooner is a throwback to our day, sending away for vintage 2004 Converse sneakers and still keeping an old stereo system that is not voice activated.  You see, he’s resisting technology in 2030-whatever by holding on to out of date objects he was probably too young to have experienced in the first place.

His first day back on the job, he gets a call about the apparent suicide of a scientist (James Cromwell) he knew.  He goes to investigate and is wary of everyone present latching onto the suicide theory since the man had no discernable motive to throw himself out of a window high within the robot manufacturing company he worked for.  When Spooner discovers a robot hiding within the room the scientist fell from, he views the technology as a suspect.

Not possible says the company’s bigwig Albert Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) and scientist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan).  The late scientist programmed his robots with three laws that keep murder out of the question.  But that doesn’t explain to Spooner why the robot he found was hiding and ran away when he tried to apprehend it.

His superiors dismiss Spooner as a prejudiced cop and his worries are cast aside by the company.

The film is flush with special effects wizardry.  A new future is fully realized and believable, though a green screen’s use is apparent is several scenes.  The robots look good, but are not very menacing.  That was intended, I know, to help carry the film’s plot.  Bravo on that point, but a robot must look dangerous to raise the stakes in the action.  When robots fight as they do in I, Robot, I must care about the outcome.  I could not force myself to.  I think the filmmakers did what they could and should have story wise, and I have no answer as to how it could have been done better, but I needed it to be.

The characters are worth caring about.  Spooner, though generic, is a good action lead.  Smith is not forced to stretch his talent in the role, but he doesn’t have to.  It’s not that kind of movie.  Instead we find that a Smith in action autopilot is better than no Smith.

Calvin is the biggest supporting role and Moynahan once again shows great promise, but does not get the chance to fully realize that potential.  I am hoping she gets more to do next time.

Director Alex Proyas is noted primarily for his artistic visuals in films like The Crow and Dark City, and he gets a bigger budget this time to accomplish bigger feats in that area.  I, Robot is a visually stunning film.  It can be exciting is spurts and serves as a nice little entertaining diversion, but there was potential for more.  Screenwriters Jeff Vintar and Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (for A Beautiful Mind) adapted a swell idea from author Isaac Asimov’s book, but the blockbuster mentality seeped in and clouded whatever greatness the film could have achieved.  The film wants to be more, playing the profound ramifications of artificial intelligence up as much as it possible can, but ultimately its blockbuster leanings keep it grounded from the heights it could have achieved.



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