I, Robot


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"For those of you who don't know, here are the three laws: 1) Let your robot's battery drain completely before recharging, 2) Don't let your robot swim for at LEAST a half hour after it eats, and 3) Don't set your robot to "kill humanity" mode -- ever. "










I, Robot
The Masked Reviewer

In Mexico, it will be called "Mi, Roboto."

In Germany, it will be called "Ich, Roboten."

In Israel, it will be called "Oy, Robot."

And in the US of A, it will be called...a blockbuster summer hit with Will Smith!  But, will it actually be any good?

The term "robot" (for those of you who don't know) comes from a Czech term meaning "drudgery" -- how appropriate.  In Czechoslovakia, it will be called...well...the Masked Reviewer doesn't know what it will be called there, but for those of you who are Czech, look for the posters with Will Smith and a robot.

I, Robot is all about robots.  It's based on the book by Isaac Asimov, although to say that it's "loosely" based on that book would be to do a disservice to the term "loosely".  It's looser than a high school cheerleader on Ecstasy on prom night.  The title is there, and the Three Laws of Robotics are there, but other than that, this is a straight-up action movie.

For those of you who don't know, here are the three laws: 1) Let your robot's battery drain completely before recharging, 2) Don't let your robot swim for at LEAST a half hour after it eats, and 3) Don't set your robot to "kill humanity" mode -- ever. 

Will Smith plays an edgy, fast-talking cop who is entirely unflappable.  Wow.  It's nice to see him branching out.  This is the kind of movie that Will Smith says he loves: it's got a lot of action and a lot of cool creatures.  It worked well for him in Independence Day and Men in Black and Men in Black II.  It didn't work nearly as well in Wild Wild West, but robots are much more interesting than Kenneth Brannaugh, aren't they?

Co-starring with Will Smith are a bazillion robots.  But, there are a few human actors, the only noteworthy one is Bridget Moynahan (who you may remember from Coyote Ugly or The Sum of All Fears).  She is only noteworthy in her lack of noteworthiness, though.  She's beautiful, but doesn't add much to the story.  And that's pretty impressive, given that it seems like anything could add to the story.  Alan Tudyk (who you may remember from such films as Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball or as a few of the voices from Ice Age) provides the voice of the main robot.

In case you didn't know, the robots are nothing more than computer animations.  There are a lot of 'em.  A whole lot of 'em.  They look okay, but for a blockbuster sci-fi action flick, many theater-goers will be let down.  They look about as convincing as the droids in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which is to say...they look like they're computer generated.  These robots do a lot of flipping and running up walls, like Spider-Man, but they don't look as good as the effects in Spider-Man 2.  The robots also do a fair amount of slow-motion acrobatic fighting, but it doesn't look quite as good as Matrix Reloaded.  The faces of the robots are kind of cool; you can see the gears moving beneath their translucent "skin", but that's small potatoes...the effects are a let down. 

The characters, as previously mentioned, aren't much of anything.  Everyone is a stereotype, and not  particularly interesting stereotypes, either.  Troubled cop, evil business dude, hot scientist chick...and robot searching for humanity. 

The plot is mildly interesting, but the problem is that Asimov has been a huge influence on so many sci-fi writers over the years that all of his concepts have been ripped-off countless times.  As a result, this movie feels very tired.  We've seen the struggles of the robot in everything from "Star Trek" to Star Wars to the abysmal A.I., not to mention 2001, Aliens, Robocop, Bladerunner, and, oh, you name it.

Now for some other nitpicking.  It takes place in 2035.  The art direction is completely uninspired.  It looks like the same future cities we've seen everywhere in sci-fi.  They do a lot of weird product placement (for example, Will Smith's future hover-car is made by Audi).  Why?  The movie also feels somewhat anti-technology, though it's kind of misplaced and the Masked Reviewer doesn't remember Asimov's work being anti-technology. 

There is an honest-to-goodness cat-scare, by the way, so be warned!   

The evil corporation in this film is called U.S. Robotics...which is the name of a real company.  They make (or, at least, used to make) computer modems.  Is that really a good marketing decision?  Especially if this movie bombs.

The pithy one liners are pith-poor in thith one.  They aren't even up to the level of Terminator 3.  It's like the writer figured whatever Will Smith said would be taken as a pithy one-liner and get a big laugh, so the writer didn't even try.  "I've got to tie my shoes."  "Whoa, is today laundry day?"  "Hey, you so gotta die!"  These aren't actual lines, but...come to think of it...they're all better.  They should've hired the Masked Reviewer to write pithy one-liners.  "I got your off button right here!"  "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!"  "Bite me!"  The Masked Reviewer's got a million of 'em.

Just so you know, you can tell the robots apart by the color of their eyes.  Also, when robots are in "evil mode", their chests glow red.  Subtle. 

All in all, this is a by-the-book action movie with a lot more money behind it than most perfectly average action movies.  There's nothing memorable or particularly good about it.  It's only got one or two laughs, and they aren't very big.  None of the action is actually exciting; it's hard to tell if it was in slow-motion, or whether it was just so dull that it seemed to be going in slow motion.  No interesting issues, no great effects (in fact, sub-par).  Still, Will Smith is as good as he usually is; the sad fact is that you can see how he's able to bring the same energy to absolutely dull material.  It's too bad.

If you love Will Smith, you may want to see this, although there's really no reason for anyone not to wait for this to come out on DVD or cable.  Asimov fans will be let down.  Robot fans won't find anything new or different in here.  It's really, totally, completely average.  It should be the baseline from which all robot films are judged. 


Expectation from the Title: That new movie about automated Lasik surgery.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Robots, in general, seem very well-behaved.

The Pros: Will Smith brings his charm, but the charm is wasted on poor material.  The robots have good posture.

The Cons: The lacks creativity to a great degree.  The characters are boring, the story is predictable (and not terribly compelling).  The effects have all been done before, and have all been done better elsewhere.  No good lines, no good fights, no good nothing.  But, nothing is really bad...it's all very average.


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