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IN SHORT: Buy the big popcorn. It's good to have for the action sequences. It'll keep you busy while you wait for those action sequences to kick in. [Rated PG-13 for Intense Stylized Action and Some Brief Partial Nudity. 115 minutes]
Parents be sure to read the final 'graph of this review page.
Every kid who read science fiction stories knows the name Isaac Asimov. Heck, we actually got to meet the man, at the earliest of SF/comic book conventions, back when we were fifteen or so. Those who dreamed of writing stories about robots or making movies based on his genre creation "robot" stories know the Three Laws of Robotics that all SF writers have adopted as gospel:
We've condensed them just a bit to make them all fit on a single line. Every writer since, and maybe even Asimov himself, played with concepts that involved robots breaking the rules. We haven't looked at the stories in thirty years and didn't crack a spine this year because this Site doesn't compare to Source Material -- that's our Rule One. The movie version of I, Robot began as a different story about a killing robot, that integrated various Asimov characters and so forth when those rights became available. The story on the big screen involves the apparent suicide of famed roboticist Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) and the instincts of robot hating police detective, Del Spooner (Will Smith) that tell him that -- all together now -- Rule One has been Broken!
We'll pause to note that Smith's character isn't the usual hard-boiled detective. His character has enough soft edges -- Smith does know how to make audiences smile -- that he is sympathetic from the word go. Strangely enough, in this future world, the more "advanced" humans seem more like robots than you'd think . . . and Det. Spooner's reason for hating robots was held back just long enough to keep us intrigued.
The "suspect" killer robot is nicknamed Sonny (performed by Alan Tudyk and some heavy duty Computer Graphical Imagery). The NS-5 model, Sonny's iteration, is the latest and most advanced derivation of robots in the land, specifically, Chicago of 2035. It has also been trademark promoted as "3 Laws Safe" all over the Windy City. Neither robot psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) nor Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), cofounder with Lanning of US Robotics, believes that an NS-5 could kill. Other than to say I, Robot is a pretty good murder mystery, we'll stop with any details right here. Anyone who plants for this movie knows exactly what it is they want to see. They'll get it. Eventually.
Director Alex Proyas, who has visually nailed the fantastic twice before, in The Crow and Dark City, does his best to try to point each viewer in the wrong direction as the murder investigation unravels under the strains of Spooner's prejudice and US Robotics' political power. Both are brought to bear on our hero via his own boss, Lt. Bergin (Chi McBride) and, as an indicator of how his directorial powers have evolved, Proyas managed to keep us in the dark much longer than we expected.
In our theater, the comment we heard that best sums up the positive and negative aspects of I, Robot was "it didn't drop any marbles." Based on the reactions around us, this means that a) unless you make a wildly correct guess at the beginning or aren't b) so intrigued and/or confused that you can't keep your mouths shut and pop questions back and forth among your friends [like some grownups in the row behind us] then c) you won't see a major surprise coming. We, and a femme friend, fell into category c). We also wished that Proyas had just gotten to the point of letting the CG artists go nuts at least ten minutes earlier than he did. That's where "covering all the bases" turns a bit negative. I, Robot carefully sets up the background for the inevitable of what we all know is coming and then takes its sweet time resolution of that WWAKIC.
Once he lets the story loose, it's all fireworks and a sit worth the oversized bucket of popcorn. Some of the CG work is so stunning that I, Robot will eventually find a place among our DVDs, just so we can rock back and forth on the effects.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to I, Robot, he would have paid . . .
There are no holes in this story and SF fans have much sharper eyes than we. I, Robot definitely falls into the better than average dateflick category -- one which guys get to pick in exchange for sitting through any chick flicks. Our one caveat about the entire experience goes to parents who think lugging in little kidlets will be no problem. Be aware that Smith's character is far too fond of a four letter euphemism for ye olde Number Two. It may be fit for the character but it is just as useless in the dialog as it is in the human body. The brief nudity mentioned in the MPAA Ratings involve Smith and Moynahan in their respective showers, individually and never together.
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