Synthetic and predictable programing

“I, Robot”Directed by Alex ProyasStarring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk20th Century FoxRunning Time: 115 minutes

2 out of 5 stars

The movie poster tagline for director Alex Proyas’ new Will Smith sci-fi summer blockbuster, “I, Robot,” is misleading.

The tagline reads, “One man saw it coming,” referring to Smith’s character, the robot-wary Detective Del Spooner, who recognized before anyone else the threat posed by the anthropomorphs.

However, this is not entirely true. Though Proyas and the films producers may not have realized it, more than one man saw coming the redundancy and mediocrity that characterize “I, Robot.” In fact, there were undoubtedly many with this foresight.

This widespread clairvoyance is not surprising. The equation employed by “I, Robot” is one that is not new by any means, although it has in the past produced its own fair share of blunderous films: Take the work of a beloved author (in this case, sci-fi forefather Isaac Asimov), pay little attention to what made his work great in the first place, add an actor with a famous name, sloppily adapt the story to the silver screen and, abracadabra, you’ve got a summer blockbuster on your hands.

“I, Robot” takes place in the year 2035 in Chicago, where U.S. Robotics-the company responsible for building the self-sufficient robots on which the movie is based-has its headquarters.

Smith plays Spooner, a good cop plagued by inner demons who is convinced that the robots on which everyone is so dependent are capable of wrongdoing. Of course, this is impossible because every robot is hardwired to follow a series of three laws that disallow them from committing any crime:

1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through any inaction, allow a human being to come into harm.

2) A robot must obey orders given to it by a human being, 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.

Everybody in 2035 knows these laws and everybody is comfortable with the level of trust placed in robots. Robots are looked to for protection and convenience because not one single robot has ever committed a crime in the history of their existence. The three laws seem to be pretty sound.

Still, Spooner is suspicious. He tackles a robot that looks like it is stealing a purse, he voices his concerns over their trustworthiness in public and, in general, he looks like a lunatic on a regular basis.

But, on the eve of the largest robotics distribution in the history of the world, in which U.S. Robotics plans to put a robot in every home, the company’s founder and father figure, Dr. Alfred Lanning, is found dead of an apparent suicide.

Spooner is called in to investigate the cause of Lanning’s 20-story swan dive out of his office and Spooner’s intuition immediately tells him that something more sinister than suicide is afoot. Spooner has a history with the good doctor and is left a holographic message containing Hansel and Gretel-type clues.

Spooner knows the doctor had little reason to take his own life, what with the realization of his lifelong dream so close at hand and all. Spooner’s investigation leads him through a maze of potential killers and synthetic motives…almost all of which make him increasingly sure that Lanning did not kill himself, but was rather killed by one of his beloved and trusted robots.

Spooner meets up with Dr. Susan Calvin, an employee of the company with her own special ties to the late Lanning, whose job it is to “make the robots seem more human.” She acts as Spooner’s key and guide within the Orwellian company.

Even though robots attack Spooner regularly, no one-not even his precinct lieutenant-takes him seriously. That is, until robots begin to break the three precious laws that were thought to be unbreakable.

Like any sci-fi story, there are some interesting philosophical questions addressed in “I, Robot.” The nature of free will, consciousness and what humans call “the soul” are all put in front of a theoretical magnifying glass, even if only for a short while. Sadly, “I, Robot” spends little time toying with these ideas, just breaching their surface instead of giving them significant attention.

The attention is unsurprisingly given to Smith and his “Independence Day” action-star appeal. He doesn’t live up to expectations. His acting is relaxed, but uninspiring and lacking depth. Character subplots like Spooner’s estrangement from his wife go nowhere and are underdeveloped. His only real human interaction is with his grandmother Gigi, who apparently raised him, and even these scenes are forced and devoid of chemistry.

The acting of Smith and costar Bridget Moynahan (who plays Dr. Calvin) is synthetic at best, often upstaged by the computer-generated performances of the robots themselves.

The only truly enjoyable character is the advanced, unique robotic lead, Sonny, who, voiced by Alan Tudyk, conjures up HAL 9000-esque charm.

The underdeveloped and haphazard “I, Robot” is subpar for director Proyas, who brought us one of the best sci-fi flicks of the 1990s, “Dark City.” Staples of Proyas’ previous work have focused on empathy and the establishment a degree of relatability between his futuristic settings and modern life. “I, Robot” is neither empathetic nor relatable, and the not-so-distant Chicago in which it takes place rarely feels like anything other than a set.

Like any summer blockbuster, “I, Robot” is driven by big-budget action sequences and expensive CGI. However, the action is typical, and while much of the CGI is not awful, none of it is anything new.

Scenes like one late in the film where a band of brave, young citizens squares off with the advancing robot legions is ridiculous and the human/robotic interaction is forced, unlike other films that heavily reliant on CGI, such as “The Lord or the Rings.” The I, Robots are cookie-cutter replicas of themselves and behave boringly, without any unexpected flare.

More than anything, “I, Robot” must be a disappointment to Asimov, whose brilliant story of predestination and emotional development still stands as a hallmark of creative foresight and brilliance. The author must be turning in his grave because although the movie had much of what it takes to be great-an experienced, proven director and cast, with a solid story to draw upon-it fizzles nonetheless.

As films like “Minority Report” continue to raise the standard for sci-fi movies,” “I, Robot” stands as a good example of how not to do things: predictably and synthetically.

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