I, Robot English Movie Review

Feature Film
Aug 11, 2004 By Subhash K. Jha

The rather complicated relationship between humans and machines has been the subject of many notable and irrelevant films. "I, Robot" achieves a sense of oneness with the theme of cultural incompatibility seldom seen in cinema.

Will Smith who for some unknown reason continues to be known as a comic actor in spite of his splendid turn as Mohammad Ali in the biopic is here cast as a clichéd cop who has nothing but sneering contempt for robots that have become a part of the human civilisation.

Oh, didn't I tell you? This feverishly flaming flick about robots and other manmade creatures is set in a future time. And boy, does the director enjoy the challenge of putting robots and humans within the same range of vision!

Director Alex Proyas is no stranger to dark films about futuristic battles between familiar and alien forces. "I, Robot" is certainly more light-hearted and deliciously adventurous in tone than Proyas' "The Crow".

Though the frames are suffused with the colours of doom, there's a sense of triumphant flamboyance to the storytelling. The original story by Isaac Asimov is fleshed out with a great deal of gusto, converting what's otherwise a crowded but slight fiction into a designer-epic with terrific visual value.

The film opens with the cop Del Spooner waking, eating and showering to what looks like a routine day...until he steps into the daylight, right into the face of a polite robot whom Smith pushes away.

It's a clever beginning, and one that establishes both the futuristic flair of the narration and the cop's aversion to robots.

Yup, we're hooked and ready to follow the plot into its darkest recesses in search of some give-as-good-as-get truths. Though the film's weighty edges never translate into a sturdy centre, it makes for a reasonably sinewy entertainer that throws in a warning message about the uneasy relationship between man and machine.

Proyas focuses on getting the visuals right. Simon Duggan's cinematography is invigoratingly convincing. The way robots are shown mingling with the suburban commuters of Chicago is so casual that it appears cool. Great pains are taken over the futuristic blueprint.

Unlike "The Crow", Proyas here keeps the proceedings bright and bouncy.

Where the film falters is in trying to make the Smith character cocky and profound. When he meets the hi-tech tycoon of the robot-manufacturing company for the first time and is politely offered a cup of coffee by the magnate, the cop says, "Is it free?" Smith's dialogues are so staccato, you wonder why he agreed to say them.

Luckily, for all those involved, "I, Robot" doesn't depend on the spoken word to get its point across. Some of the human-robot interaction is so charged with emotion, you almost begin to get a lump in your throat.

And what would our movies be without a romantic interest? But Bridget Moynahen (wasn't she Colin Farrel's pet cuddle in 'The Recruit'?) as 'The Girl' doesn't get to do any smooching scenes with Smith. She wears the expression of grimace like an expensive face-pack. Maybe self-important women who help create robots in Chicago in the year 2035 look like her?

Though the action sequences are exceptionally good, the lighter moments don't exude the air of nonchalant chic. Will Smith's grandmother's character is one sidelight that lights up the edges of the top heavy plot.

It's providential that "I, Robot" doesn't topple over with the residue of sci-fi synergy. Though parts of it are unintelligible to the layperson, the film can be enjoyed on a purely fun-and-games level.

You don't need to be clued in to enjoy Will Smith's efforts to grapple with his machine age prejudices. Just take it easy.

Subhash K. Jha