The Chicago of 2035 isn't too different from its present day version; there are still FedEx delivery personnel, garbage disposing individuals and dog walkers. All pretty ordinary tasks, except they are performed by intelligent robots, sophisticated enough to obey human commands, but not possessing a will of their own.
To limit the robots ability, they are programmed and embedded with three laws that restrict them from functioning beyond servitude. Briefly, these three laws state that robots cannot harm human beings; that they must obey their human creators and that they must protect themselves without disagreeing with the first two laws. Given that this state of affairs has successfully been in place for sometime, it would seem odd to everyone that detective Del Spooner (Will Smith in an insoluble mix of paranoia and humour) would accuse an NS-5, the new breed of intelligent androids being made ready for mass rollout by US Robotics, of murder. Upsetting as it is, it's also unsettling since the victim is Doctor Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the brains behind the three laws and the robots themselves.
Spooner's investigation is challenging because of his distrust of all things machine. His involvement in the case is not surprising though, considering the amenity he shared with Lanning, a personal friend. Aiding him is the brusque and frigid Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a psychologist at USR responsible for bestowing human characteristics in the machines they create, which are very convincingly relayed on screen via the nifty special effects. But the effects can only drive the film this far, for when logic and reasoning fail, visuals take a back seat in entertaining. 'I, Robot' has all the ripe ingredients of a tentpole summer picture, save for the fact that it is flimsily based on (or as the movie so rightfully proposes during the closing credits, 'suggested by') the classic science fiction book by Issac Asimov. The only thing, it seems, that the final product borrows from the source are the three laws, and the cunning acknowledgement to the author. The remainder is neither innovative nor cerebral enough to qualify under the classification of science fiction.
Elements of implausibility do bring this closer to becoming another mindless action vehicle (as in when Lanning's abode is set to be demolished even though all his belongings are still housed within), but there are brisk moments of genuine surprise and geek talk to allow the end result to be viewed with some respectability. The rapid acceptance of robots in the future parallels the rising use of the PC witnessed during the end of the last century. But then, having almost nothing in common to the book comes across as almost a disservice that cannot be forgiven. Director Alex Proyas' decision to turn a much loved genre title into a dim-witted picture reeks of selling out.
Though it makes for worthy viewing, 'I Robot' is unlikely to stand the test of time. It trades the scientific fascination of discourse regarding creation and responsibility that was vastly explored in the book with the shallower themes of the threat of machine takeover. A less sunny yet grittier version might have worked wonders in introducing young minds to the concepts put forward by Asimov all those years ago, instead of forever associating the title of an enduring sci fi archetype with its more popularly accessible, yet far less fascinating counterpart. - Faizan Rashid