‘I, Robot’ is overloaded with clichés and elements from other, better sci-fi movies

A robot learns to think for himself in 'I, Robot'
A robot learns to think for himself in ‘I, Robot’

[rating=2]Starring: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Alan Tudyk, Chi McBride and Shia LaBeouf
Director(s): Alex Proyas
Writer(s): Screenplay by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, Story by Jeff Vintar, suggested by the novel by Isaac Asimov

To put it simply, Will Smith is back as the improbably named Detective Dell Spooner in this summer’s blockbuster, I, Robot. It’s Chicago, it’s 2035 and the robot as domestic appliance is everywhere. One CGI filled street shot sees countless C3PO-a-likes walking dogs, picking up children, doing the shopping. It’s a world where robot and human all live in peace and harmony.

All except for Detective Spooner that is, who doesn’t trust them. Everyone, including his boss, thinks Spooner is far too paranoid about the robots, but we know better. Why? Because he’s Will Smith: action hero.

Smith and the audience are vindicated when the apparent suicide of a cyberneticist (James Cromwell) looks like it may be a case of mechanoid murder. For a little while afterwards I, Robot veers close to intelligent sci-fi, before events are predictably escalated to the point where it’s Will Smith and a big gun versus an army of robots.

There’s very little new territory here. I, Robot amalgamates aspects of A.I.2001Independence DayWestworld, the Terminator films and countless other movies that have already handled the subject. The robots (who all look like giant walking Apple Mac computers) are probably some sort of CGI triumph, but it’s getting harder and harder to care about such things. One thing’s for sure, Matrix-style bullet-time is now a cliché bordering on self-parody and the sooner we learn to ignore it, the sooner it will go away.

Will Smith hunts killer robots in 'I, Robot'
Will Smith hunts killer robots in ‘I, Robot’

If the special effects are looking predictable then so are the cop movie conventions. Even in 2035, it seems that crusading cops are still required to hand in their badge and gun to a reluctant superior officer, and then team up with someone they don’t get on with to form an intermittently amusing odd couple partnership.

These different components are all executed in a straightforwardly serviceable fashion, entertaining enough but hardly raising the bar. In fact, the most original and most fascinating aspect of I, Robot is the audacious product placement. Part of Spooner’s character is his rejection of 2035 technology in favour of early 21st century gadgets, and it seems quite a few companies weren’t prepared to miss such a golden opportunity to peddle their goods. Smith’s shiny JVC CD player gets almost as much screentime as he does, and all in lingering billboard style close up. Similarly, there are several shots of his Audi car that are careful to focus on the badge first, action and narrative a distant second.

But far and away the cheekiest bit of advertising is from Converse. Spooner gets very excited at the prospect of receiving his new sneakers in the mail and helpfully tells us they’re “vintage 2004”, which can be roughly translated as “in shops now.”

When Smith isn’t boosting footware sales in I, Robot, he’s busy making witty asides. However, the well-judged one-liners of summers gone by are replaced with a scattergun approach, Rent-a-Quip Smith now has a smartass comment for everything that happens on screen and the law of diminishing returns is in full effect.

Tellingly, for all Big Willy’s clowning, the best line of the film comes from a robot. “Could you paint a masterpiece or write a symphony” Spooner asks in an attempt to pinpoint the robots lack of humanity. “No” the robot replies, “Could you?”

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 1 hr., 55 mins.

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