I thought I would immensely enjoy this summer at the cinema. I thought all the dramas out at the theaters would be a welcome change of pace during the summer months which are usually filled with mindless action flicks that are more flash than feeling. But after some of the dramas didn't quite live up to expectations (See: The Terminal, King Arthur), I was actually relieved with I, Robot. This is one of the few true summer flicks this season that is actually worth watching, unlike the disappointments of Van Helsing and The Day After Tomorrow. Sure, it has its flaws like most summer flicks do, but this is one highly entertaining popcorn flick.
I, Robot is set in what's supposed to be Chicago in the year 2035. The sets are visually wonderful, in the vein of Minority Report, but it would've been nice to see some of the staples of present-day Chicago (Wrigley Field etc.) to better give us a feel for the city. The way they presented it to us, it could've been any city in 2035. Anyway, we start out the movie by seeing the 3 Laws of Robotics that rule over the robots that aide humans in almost every way imaginable. It seems that everyone has embraced this new way of life except Detective Del Spooner (Smith). We see his skepticism of these robots in an early scene where Spooner sees a robot running with a purse. He assumes this robot is a purse-snatcher and gives chase, acosting the robot only to find out the robot was getting its "master's" purse for her asthma inhaler. His skepticism starts to become valid when a friend and robotics engineer's (Cromwell) apparent suicide appears to be linked to a unique robot.
While they don't really paint the picture of Chicago in 2035 very well, they paint the picture of life in general in 2035 very well. There are a lot of subtle nuances here that give us little hints about how different life is then from now. They have all the neat technoliogical do-dads like cell phones being nothing more than an ear clip with a microphone, but they also give us other bits of information like the libraries being wiped out by the Internet, and driving "manually being deemed nearly insane. All of this is contrasted nicely by the old-school style of Spooner, who wears Converse All-Star's and occasionally drives a motorcylce, also deemed nearly insane. These parts don't mean a lot to the story, but it gives us a wonderful sense of the movie's place in time.
The acting here basically all comes down to Smith and Bridget Moynahan, who works at US Robotics and helps Spooner along the way. There are smaller roles from Bruce Greenwood, the head of US Robotics, James Cromwell, the dead engineer who's mainly shown in hologram or other video, Chi McBride, Spooner's boss and a very small role by a new favorite of mine, Shia LaBeouf. All these performances are fairly well-done, but they aren't very significant at all. Even the main robot, voiced nicely by Alan Tudyk, has more lines than probably all of these characters combined. So it almost all comes down to Big Willie Style and that chick from some recent spy movies (See: The Sum of All Fears, The Recruit).
Smith hasn't really played as pessimistic a role as this one before. He's usually loud and funny, but here he's a lot more reserved and, unfortunately, a lot less funny. His lack of humor is probably more fault to the script than him, because a lot of the "jokes" were just terrible, but I wasn't used to seeing him like this. He does pull it off rather nicely, even though he is pretty shaky in a lot of parts. It seems like he has a lot more range here than in his previous work, and it worked nicely, especially the scene where he explains his dislike for robots, which was marvelously performed.
Moynahan's role is that of the straight-laced engineer who doesn't believe in possibilities that aren't programmed, and she pulls that off nicely as well. She doesn't need a whole lot of range here for this character, she might come off as being flat on the screen, but that was what her character was supposed to come off like and it worked for me.
The script, written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, is where most of the problems in the movie lie, although they aren't that major. The movie takes its time in getting started, with the first 15 minutes or so seeming a lot longer than they really are. The whole movie is like this too, because the movie is just under 2 hours but it really felt a lot longer than that. The dialogue isn't that strong either, with most of the beginning laced with horrendous one-liners that won't get a single chuckle. But once the story gets going, the dialogue and even the jokes ("I'm sorry. I'm allergic to bullsh*t.") get much better. Vintar and Goldsman craft a great story that keeps throwing you twists and turns that might be a tad predictable, but ultimately are enjoyable. Even though this was "suggested by" the Issac Asimov stories, it seemed that Vintar and Goldsman were more influenced by Phillip K. Dick, because there are elements from the film versions of Dick's Minority Report and Paycheck prevalent here. Still, this is a very solid script.
Director Alex Proyas is just great at the helm here. He uses some simply amazing camera work that adds to his unique vision of this robot-filled world. He does a decent job of pulling Smith into his normally dark method of filmmaking (See: The Crow, Dark City) and his work in fight scenes and car chases is well worth noting. For a guy who usually works with miniscule budgets, it seemed he didn't let the budget get too carried away, as far as the overall feel of the film was concerned, unlike Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing. Proyas realized that the true essence of the movie is the story and characters, not how many figures are in the budget, and I really liked that.
I, Robot is a movie about what happens when Johnny 5 indeed becomes alive and kicking, in more ways than one. It gets off to a slow start and a lot of the dialogue doesn't work, but this is the perfect "summer movie" in a summer where those are lacking.