Man, I, Robot is bad. I’m speaking of the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and directed by Alex Proyas, not the book which I liked even if it had a few flaws, as I talked about already. It’s kind of funny that my big complaint about the short stories by Isaac Asimov that make up the book were based on characterization because that was my biggest problem with the filmed version. Even funnier is that the film couldn’t nail the character of Dr. Susan Calvin who could be summed up in a few words: cold, calculating scientist. Bridget Moynahan’s interpretation of the character loses her cool so early on that she essentially becomes the damsel in distress, which is about as boring of a character as you can get.
The real problem with the movie is Will Smith. He’s ridiculously annoying in the movie as robot-hating cop Del Spooner (what a terrible name) as he spouts off awful dialog like “You have so got to die.” That kind of stuff works for younger actors, but Smith was roughly 34 when he shot this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Will Smith hater. I loved Fresh Prince, Independence Day and the Bad Boys flicks, but I, Robot smacks of an older actor not understanding what he’s really good at. One-liners aside, he’s just a generally unlikable character and doesn’t really give us much to latch onto aside from having a bummer of an experience that lost him an arm and resulted in the death of a little girl. Boo hoo, you don’t have to be a dick to everyone.
Smith and Moynahan aside, I really liked the rest of the cast. Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Shia LaBeouf, James Cromwell and Alan Tudyk providing the voice and mannerisms for suspected murdering robot Sonny all do a great job, but even their greatness can’t make the two stars actually shine. In fact, their goodness really highlights how bad Smith and Moynahan are.
I guess I should talk about the plot. Cromwell plays a scientist who was supposedly murdered by robot Sonny. Smith’s on the case, but everyone, including his boss McBride, thinks he’s crazy because of the Three Laws of Robotics. Unconvinced, Smith keeps pushing which leads him to Greenwood’s robot-making company U.S. Robotics which employs Moynahan. As he keeps investigating, Smith uncovers a group of robots ready willing and able to hurt humans. The script was originally written as a completely different story, but got reformatted first to fit in with the Asimov mythology and then again for Smith specifically. I’d be curious to see how the original script compared and how many supposedly awesome moments added in by that last revision.
I don’t want this review to be completely negative, though. I found the movie to be generally boring and not super interesting, but there were some interesting moments. The overall plot was interesting and could have been, but wasn’t, set in Asimov’s world. Effects-wise, Sonny looks kind of amazing and when the robots fight each other, they don’t seem like people in robot suits fighting. On the other hand, the CGI doesn’t look great when too many robots are together. The one on one robot fight towards the end looked great, but the big battle at the storage units just seemed too fake.
You’ll notice I’m not complaining about how far away from Asimov’s book the movie is, most notably that it’s set on an Earth that has robots walking around (they were banned from being used on Earth in the books). I can understand not being able to make a movie based on the entire book. It would have been crazy expensive, though according to Wikipedia Harlan Ellison tried in the late 70s. Deemed too costly, the movie was shelved but the script was eventually published as I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay in 1994. I definitely want to check that out. I even like the idea of making a movie that would fit in with Asimov’s stories even if it didn’t directly draw from one of the actual stories, but that’s not what this is. Maybe someone with vision and some clout will come along and work their magic. I won’t be holding by breath.