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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I, Robot

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Science fiction author Isaac Asimov proposed three laws to which robots should abide in his classic novel I, Robot. In Asimov’s fiction, those laws are hardwired into the near-sentient beings to prevent them from harming humans. The laws dictate a “morality” to which the growing population of robots must abide.

Unfortunately, there are three laws that govern the film version of this tale that doom it to that ever-growing pile of trash otherwise known as big-budget science fiction, films that neither respect the “science” nor the “fiction” that inspired them:

1. Just because a movie “looks” smart, it doesn’t make it so.

2. Whenever the director feels there’s just too damn much “intellectualizing” going on, they have a bunch of people or robots or monsters kick the living shit out of each other.

3. If a character in a film ever responds to an aggressor, “Now you’re really starting to piss me off!” — the movie automatically sucks.

It’s not that Asimov’s book was so precious a literary gem that it couldn’t have been helped with a bit of computerized special effects or shower scenes of lead characters or some creative bloodletting. The novel’s primary virtue was it got us thinking seriously about the amount of responsibility we wish to give to the appliances in our life, with a nod to the idea that consciousness imitated is consciousness nonetheless.

The film manages to use these concepts to prop up a ridiculously clichéd script and by-the-numbers action sequences. It’s so hard to pay attention because you will be too busy analyzing the inherent impossibilities created by plot holes and groaning loudly over the ’70s-era television-cop-show shtick.

Get this: There’s a scene in which the homicide detective in the film (Will Smith) actually throws his badge at his superior officer after the superior officer warns him about his too-independent and rogue-ish tactics! Are you kidding me?

Anyway, the story goes something like this: Del Spooner (Smith), a man who has reasons to hate the omnipresent robot population of Chicago in 2035, investigates the apparent suicide of one Dr. Alfred Lanning (a bored-looking James Cromwell). The good doctor is a scientist in the employ of U.S.R., the creators of the brand-new robot, the NS5. The NS5 will replace all other models currently on detail helping people carry their groceries, protecting their homes and saving their lives if need be. Spooner is suspicious. He thinks the doctor was murdered by one of the NS5s, a particularly eloquent robot by the name of Sonny (Alan Tudyk).

Spooner is initially stonewalled in his investigation by the incredibly beautiful but cold assistant to Dr. Lanning, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynihan), who, by film’s end, will have sufficiently loosened up to the point of wearing some stylish leather pants and letting her hair out of its original tight arrangement. Spooner, being the hip brutha he is, gets Susan to lighten up just in time to save the world from an army of robots hell-bent on taking their “three laws” to their natural conclusion.

Remember everybody: Science bad, homicide detectives who wear Converse All-Stars and eat sweet potato pie at Granny’s house good. I just saved you eight bucks.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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