The question most on my mind pre-I, Robot was can any futuristic post-Minority Report sci-fi thriller really stack-up to Steven Spielberg's masterpiece? If this film is any indication, then the answer is definitely no. While it may not be completely fair to compare the two, there's no denying that Report clearly set the standard for films with future-minded worlds. If nothing else, Report should have motivated Robot to be a much better film.
Robot is inspired by ideas found in Issac Asimov's anthology of the same name, though screenwriters Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman don't follow any one specific novel verbatim. As in the literary works, the robots must abide by the following laws: 1) A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm; 2) a robot must obey orders given to it by a human, except where it would conflict with the first law; and 3) a robot must protect itself, as long as that protection doesn't violate either the first or second law. Of course these rules will be broken.
In the year 2035, Chicago-based corporation U.S. Robotics (USR) is set to roll out its most advanced robot yet, the NS-5. Soon, one in five Americans will have their very own robot assistant. This causes great concern for detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), who fears these robots are capable of betraying their hard-wired credo. No one, including Spooner's boss (Chi McBride), believes his wild theories. When robotics inventor and Spooner's personal friend, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) dies, apparently at the hands of a robot named Sonny (Alan Tudyk), investigators quickly dismiss the death as suicide. After all, robots can never break their laws!
Lanning leaves Spooner with a pre-death holographic recording that offers clues to his murder and alludes to possible problems with the release of the new NS-5 robots. Spooner recruits USR psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) to help him get inside the robotic "mind" despite the roadblocks thrown up by USR CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood). Robertson refuses to participate in Spooner's investigation and goes forward with the NS-5 release; not surprisingly, disastrous consequences follow.
I, Robot looks great. We see Chicago streetscapes blanketed by large plasma screens a la modern-day Times Square, underground speedways, and vehicles that operate on autopilot. Robots walk interchangeably with humans, and computers are operated purely on voice command. Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) does an admirable job integrating the digital effects with the live action. Unfortunately, this new world also comes with a disjointed and inexplicable story.
Because Proyas rushes too quickly into the film's multiple and dysfunctional subplots, we never really get a sense of where we are or what the rules are. What's worse, no time is spent examining the social implications and dynamics of robot and human interaction before chaos ensues. A multitude of questions are left unanswered. If robots have taken over all human service-orientated tasks, wouldn't much of America be unemployed? Why are the NS-5 robots so much better? When the robots do go wild, we're left with an exhaustive wasteland of obnoxious, unmotivated robotic violence that makes little sense.
Smith's turn as detective Spooner is just as useless as his robot counterparts. He's completely undistinguishable from his role in the Men in Black series. And if it wasn't for the fact that he's chasing robots, and not aliens, I would have thought this to be MIB 3, minus Tommy Lee Jones. The only thing new here is Smith exposing his bare ass.
I guess a summer special effects blockbuster with plot development is too much to ask for. Maybe I should have my own wiring examined.
The new DVD adds a commentary track from Proyas and writer Akiva Goldsman, a making-of featurette, and a few additional extras. The Collector's Edition adds a second disc with endless special effects explorations, production diaries, additional commentaries, and deleted scenes. Whew!
Try to spot the best actor.