Actually, not bad.
This is the story of a world not too far off where everything is similar to now except that Converse All Stars are rare and robots are common. Instead of the other way around. These robots are used to walk dogs, clean the house, chop the vegetables, etc. Everybody loves them, the same way assholes today love their cell phones and their iPods. And they got these new ones coming out pretty soon, the US Robotics corporation is making a big deal about it. These ones talk more like humans and have cute little rubber noses and they are see-through like my iMac. When they talk you can see little dealies moving around inside their heads. Good job on that detail, computer animators.
Also cars don’t have wheels and ceiling fans only have one blade. Otherwise though it’s the same almost.
The story follows a cop played by Will Smith, who enjoys sweet potato pie so he’s alright in my book. At first his character traits verge on the corny. He is obsessed with things that are old, like manually operated CD players and the aforementioned Chuck Taylor approved sneakers. I guess the idea is we can relate to this guy in the future because he likes the same not futuristic stuff we like. I guess. (I didn’t really buy that they would stop making Chuck Taylors by then, though. Those things have been around forever. Where are they gonna go?)
Anyway, this guy is also real paranoid of robots. He always thinks they’re up to no good. And when the CEO of USR dies of an apparent suicide, and there is one of the newfangled robots hiding in the room where it happens, he is SURE the thing did it.
Might seem reasonable to us 2004 people, but in the future this guy seems like a nut. You see, everybody knows that all robots are programmed with the 3 Laws of Robotics:
- A robot can’t fuck up a human being, or, through laziness, allow a human being to get fucked up.
- Robots gotta do what you say unless it goes against the first law.
- Robots gotta protect themselves unless protecting themselves fucks with laws 1 or 2.
- You do not talk about fight club.
- Repeat if desired.
See, those last two were actually not part of the 3 laws of robotics, they were a little “humor” added for “comic relief.” And I gotta admit I was worried the movies was gonna pull the same bullshit. I couldn’t help but notice on the opening credits that Akiva Goldsman, the notorious Academy Award winning writer of Batman and Robin was one of the writers, and I almost got up and ran off then. And in some of the early scenes you could see a struggle going on inside Will Smith, trying to decide whether he should ruin this movie or not. You know how sometimes you are just going through your daily routine and out of the blue for no reason you think of some horrible thought, like what if I threw a brick through the windshield on that car or what if I just ran up and kicked that guy in the ass. And then you catch yourself and you’re like oh jesus, where did that come from? Get that out of my head! Well Will Smith goes through that same thing in this movie, he’s always wondering if he should start talking in his “Big Willie” accent or just out of the blue announce his African-American heritage (like in Men In Black when he jumps onto a bus and says, “It’s rainin’ black folks in L.A.!” In case any color blind people are watching, this will remind them of his race.)
Fortunately, Will Smith’s inner bastard only wins out a handful of times. For the most part he takes the role seriously and as a reward, they let him show his ass during a shower scene.
The movie is sort of in a way based on a book by Isaac Asimov, which apparently was about robots. It was short stories telling stories about the evolution of robots from outer space mining tools to thinking, feeling beings fighting for their rights on earth. In each story the robots fuck up and threaten the lives of the inferior flesh beings. But then it turns out whoops, it’s because of the three laws. There is some complicated circumstance that causes the robots to act weird in their attempts to follow the laws. They won’t try to hurt you on purpose.
Well Will Smith doesn’t believe that, he thinks the robots are trying to take over the earth or something, and before you know it these new ones, they start attacking everybody and he starts running around going “I told you so!” and shit like that. And there is a motorcycle chase. You saw that stuff in the commercials.
But what I liked about this movie is, that stuff is only about 5 or 10 minutes of the movie. In a normal summer movie, the story would all be set up for a bunch of special effects and robot fights and it would be fun for a while but then it would start to get old and you’d be happy when it ended. To my surprise, this movie is not about action, the emphasis is really on the mystery and trying to figure out what caused the alleged suicide and what’s wrong with the robots. And when they throw in little twists, even the one where they explain why Will Smith has this hatred of robots, it actually works. I was expecting some “R2D2 killed my father” type bullshit but what they came up with is much more thoughtful. Also, Will Smith’s co-hero, a woman who works as a robot psychologist at US Robotics and is afraid of gasoline, is a good version of the scientist heroes some people love. She helps save the day by actually figuring things out, problem solving, not by typing gibberish into computers and yelling out fake scientist jargon.
The movie actually gets better as it gets to the end because that’s when the pieces start to fit together and you realize what’s going on. And in the end it sets up another story that could be a great sequel without even having any returning characters except for the murder suspect robot Sonny. (I don’t think that’s gonna happen, though.)
Speaking of Sonny, he was a real effective character. He has the perfect voice, not at all David Hyde Piercian. He seems very curious and a little sad and wanting to find his place in the world.
The director is Alex Proyas, hailing from the island of Australia. He did The Crow and Dark City. This one is more normal, mainstream, down to earth sci-fi, but for that it’s pretty good. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
If you are one of those people who tries to pick apart the science of movies though, you will not like this movie. For example, Will Smith leaves a sweet potato pie out all night, and then he eats it in the morning. There is no way you could really do that. The pie would go bad. I don’t care if it’s the future. That is fucking bullshit
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.