I, Robot, 2004, 1 ¾ stars

I, Robot  eye-catching but unintelligent

From OrlandoCityBeat.com, July 16, 2004

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot is as suitable for a hip action thriller as Will Smith is for a thoughtful, mature science-fiction protagonist. And if novice director Alex Proya’s laughingly loose adaptation of Asimov’s book does anything other than depict an extremely cool Chicago in the year 2035, it proves that both Smith and Asimov’s paths should never have crossed.

Smith plays Del Spooner, a cop trying to solve the mysterious murder of the top scientist at United States Robots (USR), the world’s leading producer of intelligent cyborgs. Not only does Spooner believe a robot is guilty, but during his research into the crime, he discovers a deeper plot that could eventually lead to a robot rebellion.

Asimov’s work is essentially a series of discussions on the three laws of robotics. First, robots can never harm humans or, through inaction, allow harm to come to them. Second, robots must always obey human commands unless the command conflicts with rule one. And third, robots must preserve their own existence as long as that does not conflict with the first two rules.

Not only does the film abandon the plot of all nine short stories in the novel, using only similar names and ideas from the book, but it fails Asimov’s work in principle as well. Yes, the movie’s art direction, chase sequences and fascinatingly creepy humanoid robots make the intellectual faults a bit less painful. But it ultimately fails, until the ending’s twist, to engage us in a debate on the laws of robotics and when and how they can be altered for what the robots perceive as the betterment of the human race.

The novel has proven difficult in the past to bring to the screen because the stories themselves are interviews with the retiring matriarch of USR, Susan Calvin, a sometimes cold, calculating and boring character who is often compared to a robot herself. The excitement must then come not from her or from the stories’ plots, but from the theory that all robots must adhere to the three rules of robotics and can never harm humans.

Therefore, when a robot seemingly malfunctions, the reader is forced to debate, along with the scientists, the robot’s behavior and decide if it is indeed a violation of the three rules or simply a human failure to comprehend the creature it has created. Because the movie sacrifices conversation for car chases and philosophy for fistfights, we are asked these questions only on the most superficial of levels.

Proya and screenplay writer Jeff Vintar solve the novel’s structural problems by making up a new plot that is simply “suggested” by Asimov and by turning Calvin (The Recruit’s Bridget Moynahan) into a sexy, if somewhat frosty, romantic lead. She never hooks up with Smith’s character, but we are given just enough smoldering sexuality and partial nudity to satisfy the summer blockbuster crowd. Throw in Smith’s usual adolescent but occasionally endearing sassiness, and you have an exciting and well-paced sci-fi thriller that many moviegoers will like and Mr. Asimov would detest.