OK, got it. Technology makes life better in ways that have
become so commonplace that they are imperceptible, yet the
pervasive reach of technology has encroached upon the autonomy of
humans.

So enters “I, Robot” the newest entry into the never-ending
sci-fi plot thread that has spawned “Terminator,” “Blade Runner,”
“2001 A Space Odyssey” and many other movies that don’t deserve
mention. Can “I, Robot” differentiate itself from the herd? Well,
yes and no.

Will Smith plays Dell Spooner, the fiercely anti-robot cop, who
of course is divorced and lives alone. All alienated cops need an
establishment police chief with an inclination toward rebellion so
he can indulges his rogue detective’s wild hunches every now and
again. Chi McBride is this chief.

From the moment the movie starts Will Smith is painted as the
last true humanist on the planet. He puts on his Converse All-Stars
with nostalgic glee as he turns on his non-robotic JVC (with
product placement so obvious, the brand deserves a mention) stereo
spinning vintage Stevie Wonder. After he leaves the house, his
first morning task is to racially profile an innocent robot and
attack it in public. The film shows a new take on the technophobic
angle and plays up some interesting parallels to the racial
discrimination in this country, albeit in a heavy handed
manner.

After the scientist who created and founded the U.S. Robotics
technology is found dead of apparent suicide, Will Smith’s
indiscriminate robo-racism makes him the only one to look at it as
a homicide.

As a moody piece on man’s irrelevance in the face of technology
Smith’s performance seems out of place. As the detective with some
secret tortured past he plays up the patented Smithian one liner
kitsch too much, affecting the mood of the film. Blink too hard and
one will see a buffed-up Fresh Prince fighting robots.

In the film’s most powerful scene Smith explains to his female
opposite, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan, “The Recruit”) why he
hates robots so much and despite the frivolity of the movie up to
this point the scene still has a surprising emotional resonance. It
frustrates because it proves that Smith can act and that the movie
could have been much more. While not entirely original, the special
effects and the fight scenes are pretty entertaining and
believable, which is all one can really ask for at this time of
year.

With any Hollywood movie where the central character is any type
of racist there has to be some epiphany toward the end and all the
characters do come to the a higher understanding, eventually. The
film’s conclusion has a kind of open-endedness that could be forced
into a sequel if the box office receipts warrant it. However, if
left alone the final scene represents an interesting and complex
contemplation on the fate on the delicate human/robot
relationship.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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