Seriously, do you need film reviews to tell you what you already know? That the new studio meatloaf I, Robot—”suggested by” Isaac Asimov’s book, as if the 50-year-old anthology pitched itself to Fox execs—is 18 kinds of overprocessed sheep crap? That rather than a thoughtful adaptation of a venerated piece of sci-fi lit, we get a dumbed-down litany of deliberate clichés and digital white noise? That sci-fi movies used to function as expressions of ideas, or at least apocalyptic daydreaming, and now are merely video games you can’t play?
A drab craftsman, Asimov had only his ideas to offer, and in 1950, that was plenty. Of course, the book provides little in the way of high-speed car chases or Adobe After Effects spectacle or mano a roboto combat. Asimov’s Three Laws (the primary point of which is to prevent the future’s machine population from harming humans) are trotted out, but rogue cop Will Smith nevertheless tackles a robot at the outset, assuming, as no one else on earth does, that robot crime is possible. (He walks through this futuristic scenario demanding exposition, as if he’d just fallen from the sky.) Of course, this muscle-bound mug turns out to be correct, at least in regard to a new line of corporate-produced metal-men (no females, oddly), who all talk like David Hyde Pierce (Alan Tudyk is the actual voice) and who somersault and scale buildings like Spider-Man.
You know the drill: generic brand characterizations (Smith is essentially a one-note Pebble in Society’s Shoe, complete with a fat black superior who yells at him to “let it go!”), junior high jokes (sneezes, “Sorry, I’m allergic to bullshit!”), century-old plot devices, and style-free CGIs. Talk of difference engines and accidental code confluences are kept strictly to the background, because nobody wants speculative concepts muddying up the zoom-zooms and ka-ba-booms. That’s the killer: Asimov’s running arguments about man, machine, intelligence, and emotions are seen to be entirely beside the movie’s point. Which is? The continued propagation of an entertainment industry that treats its consumers like pre-engineered, groupthinking . . . robots? Even a late-in-the-game megalomaniac computer paraphrasing John Ashcroft—exchanging freedoms for security etc.—can’t buy this lemon a sour drop of integrity. If you see it, the sequel will be your fault.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2004