Thursday Night Movie Club
I, Robot
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Release Date: July 16, 2004

Director: Alex Provas
Will Smith
Bridget Moynahan
Alan Tudyk
James Cromwell
Bruce Greenwood
Adrian Ricard
Chi McBride
Jerry Wasserman
Fiona Hogan
Peter Shinkoda
Terry Chen
David Haysom
Scott Heindl
Sharon Wilkins
Craig March
Del Spooner
Susan Calvin
Dr. Alfred Lanning
Lawrence Robertson
Lt. John Bergin
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I, Robot movie poster
Will Smith as Del Spooner and  Alan Tudyk as Sonny in I, RobotAlthough I, Robot is not based on a particular story by legendary science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, the movie is very faithful to his writings, albeit, a bit more action packed than the stories. Asimov was more of a conversationalist in his writing.

The premise of Asimov's stories are the Three Laws of Robotics: 1) A robot will not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. As Asimov examines these rules, there are always ways to work around the Three Laws.

Detective Del Spooner is called to investigate the apparent suicide of a noted robotisist, Dr. Alfred Lanning. Lanning has left Spooner a cryptic hologram message as his last request. Lanning suspects he will die soon and he puts his faith in Spooner to solve an otherwise straight-forward crime scene. The hologram is limited in its interaction. Lanning calmly informs Spooner that he must be in the right place for the answers to be meaningful.

The problem is that Spooner has a strong dislike and distrust of robots. The question is, "why would Lanning request Spooner's assistance in the first place?" Spooner's investigation with the help of Dr. Susan Calvin leads to some disturbing points of interest. How could Lanning have possibly broken the glass window in order to jump to his suicide? This question leads to a "rogue" robot, Sonny. Lanning's office was sealed at the moment of his suicide. No one went in. No one came out. Sonny is the obvious killer, except for the 3 Laws!

Will Smith as Detective Spooner and Bridgit Moynahan as Dr. Susan Calvin in I, RobotSpooner's investigation leads him to believe there is a higher conspiracy at work here. Due to his "racial" prejudice against robots, no one believes him. Most great detective thrillers involve the hero being "out" of society's norms. Spooner won't get any help from his own department nor U.S. Robotics, which is just about to roll-out the largest robot series in the company's history. Suspicions fall on the new boss, Lawrence Robertson, well played by Bruce Greenwood with just the right amount of the "evil" boss.

Spooner's resentment of robots is due to one saving his life in an auto accident. Although Spooner is lucky to be alive, the savior robot made a choice to save him rather than others who were also trapped under water. He does not like robot's cold calculations when carrying out the Three Laws. Robots understand logic, not humanity.

Photo from I, RobotWil Smith does an excellent job carrying the movie. He is very good as the troubled detective with nice "smarmy" quips to any one in authority, except Dr. Lanning. The two, it turns out, have a past history. Lanning is the reason Spooner is still a functioning detective.

Brigit Moynahan doesn't have much to do here besides "eye-candy". Dr. Calvin, from the stories, was instrumental in solving the mysteries of how robots can work around the Three Laws. Here, Dr. Calvin doesn't have much to do but push the plot forward.

For the most part, the digital effects are outstanding, except for a tunnel car chase with Spooner and a series of robots bent on ending his existence. There is a wonderful scene of Spooner searching for the rogue Sonny amongst a series of identical robots waiting for deployment. How to find the needle in the proverbial haystack?

Director Alex Provas has fashioned a taut, techno-thriller here. There are several intriguing plot twists, most notably, Lanning's dyeing message when he informs Spooner that he must be in the right place in order for Lanning's responses to his questions to make sense. The final solution caught me by surprise.

Provas locates his movie in Chicago's near future. Ironically enough, the actual company, U.S. Robotics based its name on Asimov's stories. Being from Chicago, it was a lot of fun try to place the location of their headquarters among the updated Chicago skyline. The familiar Sears Tower and John Hancock center are in prominence as well as lesser buildings like Tribune Tower. There were no shots of Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Park, so we can only assume that they are gone. It would have made a great joke for Provas to include a short news clip about the New Wrigley Field in the suburbs. I wonder what Wrigley Field fans would think of that.