Originally created 12/16/04

'I, Robot' is shiny but disappointing sci-fi flick



Part police procedural, part big-budget blockbuster and part (albeit a small part) cerebral sci-fi, I, Robot, now available on DVD, makes the too-common mistake of trying to be all things to all audiences.

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Based on the mind-bending works of Isaac Asimov, the movie takes place in a future where robots are commonplace and theoretically controlled by a perfect circle of three rules - robots cannot harm humans, robots must obey humans unless it will cause human harm, and robots must protect themselves, unless in violation of the first two rules. I say theoretically because adherence would make for an anemic action pic.

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Instead, society finds itself under the specter of robot revolt and, also expected, it comes down to a lone hero (Will Smith as Chicago cop Del Spooner) to save the day.

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That's the problem - everything happens as expected.

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When a simple drive from scene A to B becomes an automotive battle royal, it's no surprise. When a bread crumb trail of clues leads to a twist ending, there is no shock. When Mr. Smith offers up a grinning bon mot, when the ironclad armies take to the streets and when seemingly throwaway scenes turn out to be dramatic foreshadowing, it's simply I, Robot behaving as expected.

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Director Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) has long been a champion of characters unravelling mysteries in unfamiliar worlds and has also proven himself to be a deft visualist, allowing the distinctive look of his films to function as a storytelling device as important as actor or script. His participation in I, Robot would seem a natural extension of this fascination.

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As is often the case when art and commerce co-mingle, Mr. Proyas's fascinations seem to have been diluted with the greatest common movie-going denominator in mind.

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There is a glossy style to the Robot-ic proceedings. The mechanoids glower with metallic menace, and, perhaps overly symbolically, glow red just before attacking. The cityscapes of Chicago transform the Windy City into a believable amalgamation of its past and possible future. But, in the end, it is like too much shiny wrapping paper on a pair of Christmas socks - beautiful to behold but ultimately disappointing.

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Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.