It wouldn’t have taken much to make I, Robot into a pretty clever, memorable film, but wherever they had the choice, it looks like the producers took the dumb option.
The film makes for an entertaining evening out; I’m not sorry I spent my Saturday night watching it (as I was, for example, after Matrix Revolutions); but I did feel my intelligence insulted at least once every five minutes. At the periphery the design of the film is silly (some of the architecture is impossibly impractical); product placements are amazingly heavy-handed; the screenplay frequently fell short of being credible: characters behave oddly, technological coverage is patchy and dramatic clichés abound.
I, Robot wears its influences on its sleeves. The film it most resembles is Minority Report. Indeed, it is almost a remake: it has a very similar premise and philosophical undertone (flawed cop with personal history battles system which believes technology is perfect and exposes inherent weakness), and Minority Report was clearly a big influence in production design.
But the difference is that Minority Report was credible, where I, Robot isn’t: Aforementioned flawed cop Spooner’s beef with the Robots is that, once upon a time, one saved him and not a little girl when both were drowning in a river, on the basis of the cold logic that he was more likely to survive if saved. Now maybe I’m a little callous, but to me that just doesn’t stack up as a reason to hate the bots: for one thing, Spooner owes them his life; for another, the odds were (according to the screenplay) that the girl would have died anyway; for a third, without the Robot, patently neither of them would have survived.
Implausible constructs such as this continue throughout the film: Even though cars can auto-drive themselves at supersonic speeds (presumably by dint of access to some network which has all road information on it relating to all road users), inconveniently when Spooner is attacked by two truckloads of rogue bots, there is no electronic surveillance or even any record of traffic movements, which might corroborate the story and give the game away. Instead, Spooner has his badge pulled by the gruff Police Captain. (By the way, hasn’t this particular chestnut, so well spoofed in So I Married An Axe Murderer, been taken out and shot by now? What is it doing appearing in a film in 2004?)
The remainder of the film’s references are less cerebral: It borrows action sequences from the Terminator, Matrix and even Star Wars franchises, but they are played for nothing but cheap thrills, and don’t really deliver them. Demonstrating almost Neo-like indestructibility, Will Smith survives two wall-to-wall shoot-em-up action sequences with nary a scratch; you do wonder whether it wouldn’t have been easier (and smarter film making) to pit the hero against fewer adversaries in the first place so there is chance the audience will believe he could have got through in one piece.
But for all that I think the film just about gets away with it, as a piece of entertainment. It’s certainly no 2001, not is it as well crafted or intelligent as Minority Report, but it leaves A.I. for dead, and so in my book is still worth a look.
Director: Alex Proyas
Stars: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood
Runtime: 115 min
Country: USA, Germany