2.5 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 115 minutes
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I can see it now, a whole new trend in Hollywood marketing. Unless I’m wrong, here’s what you’ll see happening more and more: Studios will put out pictures “suggested by” timeless works by immortal authors. They’ll appear to be toney projects but, as audiences will discover all too late, the big screen adaptations will have almost nothing to do with the books whose titles they’ve appropriated. Easy money for the authors or their estates and a lot easier than going to all the trouble of making a good movie for the studios. A win-win proposition. Unless, of course, you happen to be on the ticket-buying end of the deal.

Isaac Asimov is a writer with more than a few timeless works of science fiction to his credit and it certainly didn’t hurt “I, Robot”’s opening weekend grosses to have his name in its credits. Too bad nobody at Fox seems to have read the book on which it was based. Sorry. I mean by which it was “suggested.”

Alex (“The Crow”) Proyas’ take on Asimov is sure to impress as a
mindblowing exercise in futuristic fantasy. Assuming, of course, you’ve never seen a movie about robots before. In particular “Blade Runner”, “Bicentennial Man”, “Robocop”, “The Terminator”, “The Matrix” or “A.I.” Because his latest is a rusty, rather dispensable contraption assembled entirely of parts pirated from those films.

Will Smith does the wisecracking, action hero thing again in the role of a Chicago detective with a microchip on his shoulder. The year is 2035 and personal robots are as common as personal computers are today. As a result of a pivotal incident in his life, he’s got a problem with cyborgs. He’s the artificial intelligence equivalent of a racist in fact and his paranoia has made him the laughingstock of his precinct. When a well known robot designer (James Cromwell) commits suicide, Smith cries wolf claiming that the scientist was really murdered by a humanoid run amok.

For a time, he appears to be right. He discovers the existence of a renegade robot which appears to have developed the ability to reason, reflect and even feel. Sonny, as he identifies himself, is one of the newest generation of androids produced by the so-powerful-it-has-to-be-evil corporation US Robotics but, for some reason, he’s evolved beyond his fellow machines.

Alan Tudyk provides the voice for Sonny and anyone who has seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” will recognize that he is doing a convincing impression of HAL 9000, the supercomputer which runs amok in Kubrick’s classic. With the assistance of CGIs, Proyas fills the screen at times with hundreds, even thousands of these new robots. It’s unfortunate that, individually or en masse, they are not more visually interesting. Aside from their see-through lucite faces, they’re an uninspired combination of chrome and black cable.

While Sonny turns out to be one of the good guys, a droid revolution is indeed in the works and the fate of humankind winds up in the hands of the maverick cop, a US Robotics staffer/mandatory movie babe played by Bridget Moynahan and their prefab pal. Of course, in a movie this predictably programmed, what chance does an army of killer machines have against this trio?

“I, Robot” is not a total waste of time. Proyas creates a futurescape that’s snazzy in a “Blade Runner” lite sort of way and one or two of the film’s effects are eye poppers. It’s derivative as a motion picture can be, however, a-by-the-numbers action film retrofitted as a sci-fi work of art. Smith, for his part, evidently has had his fill of Oscar chasing and elected to resume a career of car chases and shoot outs.

The author’s imprint is nowhere to be found. The film’s producers bought the rights to one of his best known works, took the title and tossed the rest in the trash. Asimov fans will be well advised to pass. It’s one thing not to do a book justice and quite another not to do a book at all.

Posted on July 27, 2004 in Reviews by

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