Bionic cop: More sci-fi for summer fun
Does the fact that more movies are created by artificial intelligence mean we'll be seeing more movies about artificial intelligence?
It's taken Isaac Asimov's i, Robot over 50 years to make it to the screen– under its own name, at least. Other films have borrowed as much from Asimov as this one (which is officially "suggested by" the stories in i, Robot) without giving him credit.
It will be enough for some people that a summer movie has ideas, not just a lot of mindless action and special effects. Others will note that some of those ideas would have seemed old when Asimov wrote the first of his stories (in 1940).
Without giving away too much, robots take the place of the aliens in The Day the Earth Stood Still who tried to keep humankind from destroying the planet. (What part of "Klaatu barata nicto" don't you understand?) An additional twist, however, turns it into a contemporary political allegory in which the cure is worse than the disease. At least that's one reading, and you can compare it to your own after you see the picture.
A little old-fashioned thinking is justified by having a hero (not from Asimov) who's a retrohead. Police Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) exhibits this quality by listening to a couple of records from the 1960s and '70s (it's now 2035) and wearing vintage sneakers from 2004 (the better to promote the brand).
The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now that's Asimov! The laws have been preserved in this adaptation by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, the latter an Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind. They haven't written as good a screenplay as Alvin Sargent did for Spider-Man 2, but it's not for lack of trying.
One of their lesser inventions is a parable about intolerance. Spooner is prejudiced against robots and, you see, he's black; so he speaks in paraphrases of things people used to say against blacks and now say about gays or whoever's left to discriminate against. When we learn that robot-master Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) replaced Spooner's arm and some other body parts with robotic prosthetics, we sense there may be some self-loathing going on.
The plot kicks in with Dr. Lanning's death, supposedly a suicide, but Spooner thinks not. He finds some pretty conclusive evidence but still can't get his boss (Chi McBride) to believe him. It might be an interesting movie if Spooner really were as paranoid as everyone thinks he is, but Homey don't play dudes who are wrong.
Dr. Lanning worked for U.S. Robotics, a company run by Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), "the richest man in the world." They're about to foist a new generation of robot, NS-5, on the public, and it may be that this year's model is too intelligent– and willful– for our own good.
Speaking of willfulness, i, Robot is full of Will Smith and whatever he's full of, including humor. He never really gets the girl, despite the usual antagonistic, romantic comedy buildup.
"You are the dumbest smart person I know," he tells Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan, fixed up to remind you of Sandra Bullock), whose job is to make robots seem more human. She counters with, "You are the dumbest dumb person I know." If one of the writers has a child in third grade, you know where that dialogue came from.
Another major character is Sonny (Alan Tudyk– at least part of him), the robot who's Spooner's prime suspect in Dr. Lanning's death. Tudyk and the effects team invest Sonny with more personality than most of the human characters.
The effects are the usual, "ho-hum it's awesome!" stuff, mostly involving robots, anywhere from one to hundreds at a time. When they attack en masse they sometimes recall the Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded.
Asimov's writing may have inspired such other screen robots as Robby in Forbidden Planet and hissable Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those were certainly better films than i, Robot, and I have a soft spot for the SpielBrick collaboration, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
But it's summer and you've already seen Spider-Man 2 enough times, so i, Robot should suffice for a less worthy but not unworthy follow-up.