Movie Review 2008 #43: I, Robot

An action/police procedual movie “inspired” by the work of Issac Asimov, and starring Will Smith.

I was reluctant to see this movie for a long time, until my friend Bridgette convinced me that it was worth watching. My reluctance came from the fact that the movie is very unlike the original Asimov stories, with only the Laws of Robotics and a few names making the transition.
The movie stars Smith as Del Spooner, Chicago police officer who has a real grudge against robots. This is hinted at in the opening title sequence, and is later explained in full detail just why Del has a problem with robots that no one else seems to share or understand. His boss at the precinct can’t control him, his beloved grandmother chides him for his attitude, and he rubs everyone and everything raw, especially when it comes to the mechanical entities which now dominate Chicago and the rest of the U.S. in 2034.
So when Robot inventor Dr. Alfred Lanning (played in holograms by James Cromwell) dies in an apparent suicide, but asking for Del in his death message, Del’s dislike for robots is put to the test as he visits the gargantuan building that holds US Robotics. Del’s abrasive personality and style are matched against the cool and collected Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynihan). It seems at first that Del’s presence is useless and worse than useless. However, the apperance of Sonny (Alan Tudyk) and evidence suggesting that Lanning could not have committed suicide starts a chain of action sequences and investigations that reveal an audacious plan involving the latest model of robot to be released…
While the movie is 65% action and police procedural, and 30% science fiction, the movie does have a small dose of philosophy and the spirit of the original Asimov work As a minor spoiler, I will reveal here that, while not put directly in those terms, the movie’s plot revolves around the “0th law”. The first time I saw the movie, I recognized this immediately, and on this re-viewing, I appreciate that Proyas (who also directed Dark City) subtly inserted this distillation of the three laws. Proyas is a great director even if this movie, with its car chases and pyrotechnics does not play to his greatest strengths.
Cromwell does fine as a hologram, Moynihan does okay as Calvin. Tudyk provides a human face to Sonny the robot. Still, this movie, like many of his movies, belongs to Smith’s Del Spooner. Smith is as always a protagonist which the viewers can follow. Even if, unlike many of his roles, Del’s personality and history have a dark edge that (until this movie) Smith had never really explored before in movie roles. I note wryly that this is the second SF movie he has been in that he has been a police officer. (Men in Black being the first).
The movie IS a summer blockbuster type movie, but definitely in the upper tier of that subset of movies. The movie doesn’t fail to entertain and I enjoyed it a lot.