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Culture Reviews
I, Robot / By A. Proyas /
Dome Cinema 
By Ryan Macalino
Call it a guilty pleasure. Despite its status as a pure popcorn flick, "I, Robot" is actually an enjoyable movie, flaws and all. A warning: the only thing this movie shares with Isaac Asimov's literary work is its title and the "3 Laws of Robotics", so those looking for a mentally engaging science fiction film will likely be disappointed.

This movie instead markets itself as a futuristic action-thriller, starring Will Smith. He plays Del Spooner [the worst ever name for an action lead character], a badass detective who happens to have a deep mistrust of robots. He is summoned to the colossal headquarters of US Robotics - the world's monopoly manufacturer of robots ?V to the scene of the apparent suicide of the world's most foremost expert on robotics. Spooner immediately senses foul play, and the "suicide note" left by the deceased sets things in motion for the investigation.

You can pretty much guess what will happen from this point onward. Spooner meets people (and robots) that will help contribute to solving the case, and along the way there will be revelations of the existential-philosophical kind, much like in "Blade Runner". And yet with all of Asimov's material that the filmmakers could have mined, they were quite content to keep this movie as banal and predictable as any other action movie.

In fact, it goes wrong on so many levels; the movie hints at numerous threads it could've used to embellish the main storyline with, and then trivializes them for the sake of more gunfire, car chases, and shower scenes. For example: in this future setting there is somewhat of a surplus of people of African-American descent, much like in the Matrix movies. There is a special significance to this, since the main character in Spooner is black and hates robots while the other 3 supporting characters (all white) defend them. Many viewers, especially Americans, will view this as an obvious allegory to racism. And while "I, Robot" opens with this kind of brooding ambiance, it somehow transforms itself into a futuristic buddy-cop movie.

And then there's Sonny, the new class of robot who exhibits a sort of Pinocchio Syndrome, always wondering - and quickly learning - how it is to be human. While this theme has been examined many times before, a little bit more emphasis on it would have made for a far better story. In fact, through CGI, the filmmakers were able to make Sonny exhibit facial expressions so compelling that at times he was more human (and rightly more worthy our human sympathy) than the human actors themselves.

With his usual help from CGI, director Alex Proyas actually did a nice job with "I, Robot". Granted, it will never equal his groundbreaking movies "The Crow" and "Dark City" in terms of storytelling, style, and significance, but he succeeds in doing a few things to spice up the sci-fi action genre a little bit. One contribution is that instead of the usual sluggish-metal-zombie robots that we?Śre used to seeing, this generation features ninja-like fighters, complete with eerie looks and cyclone kicks.

The performances are passable, especially with the supporting actors mainly playing typecast roles. I'm not sure how to take Will Smith in his role however, as it seems to have been made for a 90's-era Bruce Willis type. Even in tear-inducing scenes, Smith seems to have a permanent smirk on his face, making it difficult for the viewer to get into his character.

Finally, my last (and biggest) gripe about this movie would have to be the amount of embedded advertising. With sponsors like Converse getting repeated plugs, it won't be too long before I snatch up my own pair of "vintage 2004" black leather All-Stars.

With so many things that this movie tries to be, it ultimately is just regular action movie. Granted it's not the best way to spend your 300 rubles, but sometimes regular is good, too. There is a certain comfort in the simple and predictable. If you're bored, have a hankering for popcorn, and don't want to think too hard, you could indulge yourself in this guilty pleasure.

13.08.04
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