188 – I, Robot

Forget the title. Those of you who recognize its relevance would be severely disappointed to see few elements of Isaac Asimov’s stories in this movie, and those of you who don’t recognize the relevance will find a plethora of other problems to kvetch about.

The year is 2035, and robots are everywhere. They’re intelligent, sentient beings, kind of, and can perform quite an array of tasks. They’ve become so commonplace that their morality are never in question, thanks to the Three Rules of Robots, which prevent a robot from causing harm to humans.

Not everyone’s drinking the robot kool-aid, though. Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), who hates robots with a passion, is assigned to a case in which a preeminent robotics scientist (James Cromwell) appeared to have jumped through a window many, many stories up, splattering himself all over the lobby of his office building. Grimacing and muttering all the while, Spooner sets out to investigate what seems like a suicide. But our intrepid hero – as well as 99.9999% of the viewing audience – thinks something else is afoot.

(Which reminds me. In movies such as this, look at what the lead character does and says when we first meet him. Rarely are lines said for the sake of natural feel; they all Mean Something to the plot, however small.)

The beauty of megabad movies is that they offer so much fodder for humor. For example, nearly every character is a caricature, from the tough-love police lieutenant (Chi McBride, typecast) to the cute- intellectual female scientist to Spooner’s wise and doting grandmother. The makers of this crap could have just used cardboard cutouts with the stereotype written on them in permanent marker.

As Spooner unearths more evidence and more people become convinced he’s losing his mind, the audience is relegated to counting the cliches and the cereal-box writing. I swear, if I hear Smith say, “Oh HELL no!” in one more movie, I’m gonna upchuck my Milk Duds. His wisecracks are neither wise nor cracky. At one point, his lieutenant kicks him off the force, asking him for his badge. And just his badge – he’s allowed to keep his gun. Good thing, because he needed it for the rest of the movie, as it turned out.

The plot is nonsensical if one looks at it too closely. Guy dies. Cop blames a robot. Everyone else blames guy and laughs at the cop, who has a history of violence against robots. Who’s right? Who cares, anyway? It’s all a soulless, turgid mountain jibberish. There’s not an honest or original thought in the movie. You’ll be several jumps ahead of the criminially stupid Spooner. In real life, Spooner would have been gutted by his fellow humans; he wouldn’t be able to make a dopey analytical statement and then follow it with a high-larious side-splitting witticism without being drawn and quartered. Or so one would
hope.

The only saving grace is the effects. 2035 (not too far from now, kiddies!) looks like a pretty cool place to be, much more so than most futures look on the silver screen. There’s no postapocalyptic nightmare. No maurauding bands of hellions looking for water, or dry land, or both. Everything looks gee-whiz-bang; in the middle of them is Spooner as anachronism, complete with Converse sneakers, a stereo that works by remote and not verbal commands, and manual driving. You know, rather than letting those bad ol’ robots drive.

But see, this is old news. Go watch Demolition Man (1993). Instead of Bridget Moynahan in this one, you’d get Sandra Bullock. And instead of Will Smith, you’d get real action stars, like Sly Stallone and Wesley Snipes. And it’s more fun, because it never takes itself too seriously. This movie does, even though it’s far more style than substance. The underlying problem here is that director Alex Proyas and writers Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman chose to use 2004 sensibilities and behavior in a movie set in 2035.

I, Robot is a bottomless pit of dung. There, I said it. This movie is like graffitti in the otherwise-respectable wall of Will Smith’s career. But what I, Robot teaches us, boys and girls, is that Will Smith is not so much an actor as a Movie Star. He’s resplendent in all of his Smithisms; all that’s missing is a white guy to whom Smith can impart sage advice.

I, Robot: *1/2

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