-By Lewis Beale

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"Suggested" by the Isaac Asimov novel of the same name, I, Robot is a pretty impressive piece of work, a futuristic action film with a brain. A rarity in this day and age, director Alex Proyas' movie manages to combine some interesting philosophical musings with a series of memorable CGI set-pieces.

Set in the year 2035, I, Robot follows Chicago homicide detective Del Spooner's (Will Smith) investigation of a murder that may have been committed by a robot. This is supposed to be an impossibility, because in a world where robots now perform all sorts of functions, from cleaning and bartending to FedEx deliveries, the metal men are hardwired in such a way that they are not allowed to kill humans. But Spooner, a robot-phobe who also wears retro clothes (Converse All-Stars, Shaft-like black leather jackets), thinks a particularly sophisticated robot called Sonny (Alan Tudyk, sounding like HAL 9000) might have murdered Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the genius behind U.S. Robotics, the company which mass-produces these futuristic mother's helpers.

Spooner's search soon leads him to Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a robot psychologist who has worked with Lanning, and Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the slightly sinister U.S. Robotics CEO. Sure enough, Our Hero is quickly up to his eyeballs tracking a conspiracy that involves a revolution which could change the course of all human history.

Yet it's not the basic detective plotline which sets I, Robot apart from other heavily FX'd features. Although not as deep, nor as innovative, as The Matrix, the film still pays more than lip service to such issues as man's relationship with technology, the particular things that make us human, and the parameters of freedom. Give credit to screenwriters Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman for not dumbing down Asimov's ideas, while still providing plenty of pulp fun. It's quite a feat, given that I, Robot also contains the requisite crowd-pleasing action sequences, including a car chase through a tunnel involving Spooner and literally hundreds of robots that will be talked about by audiences for weeks to come.

If I, Robot has a major flaw, it's probably that Will Smith is starting to endlessly replicate his Men in Black persona, and it's becoming really boring. The hip, wisecracking, post-modern thing seems particularly out of place in a film that is attempting something visionary. Every time I, Robot wants to reach for the heavens, Smith's shtick conspires to bring it down to earth.

Ultimately, however, this is just a quibble. I, Robot is better than anyone had any right to expect. It may not be a literal rendering of Isaac Asimov's plots and themes, but it certainly conforms to the author's spirit, and for that science-fiction fans, as well as filmgoers of all stripes, should give thanks.

-Lewis Beale

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