Isaac Asimov was a notable scientist in the field of quantum mechanics and
is considered one of the fathers of robotics. What a foundation for a
science fiction author of 407 books. When he describes the use of an
electron pump, as he does in "The Gods Themselves," you can be sure he knows
what he's talking about. And, when he creates a story about robots, he
brings significant credibility to their development, as far-fetched as the
vision seems to take him.
Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a luddite in the year 2035 when robots
as messengers and household helpers are as much a part of every home and
office as computers and cell phones are today. He's a retrograde rebel,
a man who seems to have a complete distrust of anything mechanical. But give
him a pair of vintage Converse sneakers and he's walking on clouds. The
irony is that this techo-phobe is the close friend and ally of Dr. Alfred
Lanning (James Cromwell), the inventor of these robots. When Lanning turns
up dead, the victim of an apparent suicide, he's sent by his boss, Lt. John
Bergin (Chi McBride) to get over his suspicious nature and investigate what
everyone is assuming is a suicide.
After a confrontation with Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the CEO of
U.S. Robotics, the company that seems to have cornered the robot market
and which is releasing the latest, improved model, he goes against the common
wisdom. He's convinced that Lanning was murdered and, quite possibly by a
rogue robot. To Spooner, they're all roguish, despite the fact that their
inventor, Lanning, insisted on a 3-part code of ethics (for the programmers)
to protect mankind from what untamed artificial intelligence might lead to.
Hal, for example, in Stanley Kubrick's "2002."
The best part of his investigation is in the meet up with Susan Calvin
(Bridget Moynahan, "Coyote Ugly", "The Recruit", a 34 year old New Yorker who
hasn't exactly hit a path to stardom but provides all the necessary chemistry
here) his appointed guide and Lannings ex-assistant. She introduces Spooner
to the underlying technology of the corporation, a master operating system
that appears in a cubist form with a humanoid face, called V.I.K.I. (Fiona
Hogan). Not much can happen around here without V.I.K.I.
To Susan, the detective's suspicions of murder are completely unfounded,
but that conviction loses traction when he uncovers a new model robot hiding
in Lanning's lab. Springing up from concealment, it immediately exhibits
a devious depth of understanding, superhuman strength and acrobatic ability
-- making it an overpowering adversary. Spooner figures this nasty, smooth
talking renegade machine, later identified as Sonny (Alan Tudyk), is what
killed Lanning, but under whose order and for whose gain?
Director Alex Proyas, the creator of my favorite sci-fi movie, "Dark City,"
repeats his masterful way with effects and delivers seamless
futuristic reality but with a limited set of futuristic possibilities. Where
"Dark City" was inspired, this feels like loads of money was thrown into a
His casting of Will Smith to ensure favorable audience contact with this
actor's special brand of satiric cockiness and magnetic personality
("Independence Day"), was equally canny. The concept of a technological
throwback successfully troubleshooting an uncontrollable advanced
intelligence is clever. But this script limits Smith to a narrow portion of
his expressive spectrum -- affecting the film's balance between its positive
elements and the villainous circuitry of the machines. Instead, we get an
equation that never achieves equilibrium, let alone a final feeling of hope
or vindication. The vision seems to want us to be defeated or, at least,
With screenwriter Jeff Vintar's adaptation of Asimov's "I, Robot," Proyas'
smugly superior robotic creation proves to be the leading edge of a wild
insurgency of machines with a control program that decides it's rescuing
mankind by conquering it. The attempt at the end to rehabilitate robotic
Sonny's character fails to overcome a multi-villain axis of evil and a pulpy
vision that feels machine-hacked -- a promising payload squandered. A movie
with considerable visual achievement and dramatic potential unfortunately
condemns itself to the scrapheap of brilliant miscalculations.
~~ Jules Brenner