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Cinemalphabet: I is for I, Robot

October 8, 2010


The letter “I” was always going to be Will Smith. I knew that instantly. However, to choose from his sci-fi hat trick of “I” movies: Independence Day, I am Legend or I, Robot. I could pretend I had to make some Sophie’s Choice (google it) but all I did was put the titles on a scrap of paper, close my eyes and pick one. I, Robot won, which was good news, since of the three films, it was the one I had seen most recently. Will Smith has always had my heart because his films/music entertain me and he seems like a nice enough guy. He gets a lot of shit from inside the black community for being a sell out or “shucking/jiving” – how dare he want to rap, dance, have fun and make people feel good. The bastard! – and outside the community for having the cheek to want to take black folks to cinematic places they haven’t been before, like mainstream action stars and likable, complex superheros. He paved the way for a lot of these new jack chuckleheads; without him there’d be no Boris Kodjoe. But then I’ve always considered myself the “Fresh Princess” of slactivism, so maybe that’s why I get all crispy when Will doesn’t get his propers.

Substitute “robot” for your own -ism célèbre and theoretically you should have a hot time at the old deconstruction rodeo tonight. And people have done that. It’s not worth linking to their analysis, because nearly all of it is too verbose, written in some hot mess of inaccessible academic chow chow and wholly off the mark. I, Robot contributes nothing new or profound when viewed from any specific ism lens. I, Robot says, “See, even those people can be bigots too!” Of course, I could understand how the lightly oppressed might be attracted to that perspective. Keeps the focus off their own privilege, while also giving them an opportunity to feel self righteous and good about themselves. This framing is one of two things I loathe about an otherwise highly entertaining and satisfying Will Smith effort.

Oh yeah, sci-fi geeks were all sixes and sevens about the casting of Will and the strip minding of the source material. And you know, if their criticisms hadn’t been couched in so much casual racism, I might have given their perspective some consideration. Since it wasn’t, my response to them is, “suck a fuck. no suck two fucks.” You know me; I like to be generous. Maybe if y’all had let Smith play Superman before he got too old he wouldn’t have jacked up your precious insular scif-fi. Not that I think he did.

Now that we done got that out the way…

awww sonny won't share...

The first thing I, Robot has going for it is the lightly adapted Asimov source material. The second thing I, Robot has going for it is Will Smith. I, Robot seems to be the genesis of Smith’s Julia Robertesque “dour” period (Mary Reily and all those glum movies she made post Kiefer break up/Pretty Woman), and of his dour period I, Robot only bested by Hancock. His work is exceptional here. I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen Smith effectively balance the comedic and dramatic requirements better. Often he skews towards one direction or the other regardless of what the role requires. I’d like to pretend it’s only because he’s one of the producers of the film and the star that he received the lion’s share of criticism in regards to the deviation from the source material. But I know better. The only “bad” thing about Will’s involvement in the film is that he didn’t MAKE A SONG! He could have made a cool video where he did the electric slide or “the robot” with, you know, the robots.

Look, Blade Runner has about as much to do with PKD’s source material as I, Robot has to do with its source material. Yet, Blade Runner rarely receives the same level of hate. Both are successful adaptations/interpretations of their source material, with I, Robot being a tiny bit better (to me) because I like Will Smith ten times more than I like Harrison Ford; to be sure I like them both a lot. But Harrison Ford doesn’t look and remind me of my brother. Though Ford does remind me of a math teacher I had once, who used to try to strong arm me into career in medicine. Conversely, I, Robot director Alex Proyas is no Ridley Scott and seems more project manager than director. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. His Sydney Pollackish (and that’s high praise from me) approach to directing the film is the smart one. Proyas stays out of the way of the actors and the special effects. I love you, J-Cam, but, you ought to take some notes! Avatar, while fabulous, was directed within an inch of its life.

The second element I loathe about this film, which you recall I noted I love the movie, is that doggone Shia Lebeouf. Who lied and told this motherfucker he was a hood rat? His blaccent and desperation to be “down” were so tedious I kept hoping one of them robots would grab him by the ankles and shake that problematic fakey blaccent right out of him. To be fair, I didn’t care for Lebeouf back when he was on Disney’s Even Stevens either. Yes, I watched that mess; I love Christy Carlson Romano because she’s KIM POSSIBLE! Maybe he’s a great guy, but I just can’t stand his face – and he’s in everything!

Chi McBride, Will Smith and Bruce Greenwood

In addition to Smith, the always great James Cromwell and Bruce Greenwood, there is my girl Bridget Moynahan as the resident “hot” scientist chick. Moynahan endeared herself to me in the thankless role of hot young girl who “stole” Big from Carrie – Natasha on SATC. Moynahan’s personal life woes have overshadowed her acting abilities and that’s a shame. She’s no Meryl Streep, but she doesn’t annoy me like 99% of the marginally talented interchangeable ingénues whose names all seem to start with a C or a K. In I, Robot she does the best she can with another one dimensional role. I like Moynahan in everything I’ve seen her in, even though she’s mostly cast in forgettable, underwritten roles such as girlfriend or sidekick. In this case she’s cast as the non-sexual romantic lead reminiscent of the dynamic between Julia Roberts and Denzel in The Pelican Brief or Sam Elliot and Whoopi in Fatal Beauty. You saw what I did there.

Every time I see Chi Mc Bride there’s a split second where I think he’s Charles S. Dutton! I guess I can stop calling him “Chee” since it’s pronounced “Shy”. He’s on board playing Spooner’s (Smith) pragmatic and blustery boss. Again, it’s a bit of a thankless role, however, it’s always better when those kinds of roles are played by someone who can act. Pastor Veal stars as Sonny, the sweet, put upon robot who is accused of murdering his creator, played by James Cromwell. I love Sonny so much. Though not enough to get me a robot. I won’t lie, robots, like puppets, generally creep me the fuck out. It’s that old uncanny valley shit again. So it’s a real testament to Pastor Veal’s acting he made me care that humans were being mean to robots.

Catch up with the Cinemalphabet series.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. HSofia permalink
    October 8, 2010 5:18 am

    When my (now) geek husband and I combined belongings, I saw he had this movie and was rather snooty about it (not even sure if I’d seen it). He, as usual, was indifferent to my opinion about his taste level and proceeded to play it almost every day for weeks. Finally, I watched it and was very entertained. Its amazing to hear that it’s been analyzed so much; being based on a sci-fi novel doesn’t automatically give a movie a lot of subtext.

    I like Will Smith, too, and agree with your assessment of him. He’s not the best actor but like Brad Pitt, he keeps busy, isn’t a pain in the ass to work with and tries new things.

  2. October 8, 2010 2:28 pm

    The decision to cast Smith was surprisingly controversial so lots of interested parties were providing an analysis of the dust-up while also trying to position their own agenda. A bunch of fools if you ask me. It’s a science fiction film; not a Rosa Parks moment.

  3. October 9, 2010 1:42 pm

    Some points, in no particular order:

    -You are so right, Christy Carlson Romano is awesome and the main reason I watched Even Stevens. Did you know she went on to act on Broadway? She was in Beauty and the Beast and I’m not sure what else.

    -Chi McBride is so great!

    -Blade Runner is kind of cheesy, so, there’s that.

    -Will Smith is the best, and I’m sorry he’s being picked on because of different racial perspectives. I’ve generally thought of him as an actor almost everyone can agree upon, because he’s incredibly likable and has been in very popular movies.

    -Will Smith should do a song for every movie he’s in. I miss those times.

    -I haven’t seen this movie in quite some time, and probably I didn’t even see the whole thing, because I don’t remember, like, ANYTHING you’re talking about here. So it’s due for a re-watch, definitely.

    -I forgot this was directed by Alex Proyas, whose Dark City is one of my favorite films, and who always makes a stylish-looking movie even if the material isn’t the best.

    -Great job!

  4. October 9, 2010 4:36 pm

    @Alex – I wish more sci-fi directors could practice the restraint displayed by Proyas. He is very adept at not allowing the sci-fi elements to overshadow the human elements. And I agree with your assessment of his work. I also LOVE Dark City. It’s so freaking underrated.

    Yeah, I’m always surprised that Will gets hate, because I also think he seems like someone who is universally liked or at least tolerated. I have never really seen him as a polarizing figure. Who knew?

    I think I, Robot is a lot better than it should have been considering a lot more emphasis was placed on the CGI and the robotics than was placed on the script, casting or plot.

  5. May 23, 2011 2:29 pm

    I kept meaning to look up Bridget Moynahan, but forgot – you totally nailed where I was remembering her from, of course. I liked her, she was a less annoying, more talented version of Jessica Biel!

    Watching the movie reminded me of your post about tropes and how they aren’t always a bad thing. This movie did them very well, like it was a greatest hits of tropes repackaged in new special effects and slick direction. Sometimes the exposition dialogue got a little laughable, but it was easily forgivable. I liked this movie better than Hancock but not as much as I Am Legend.

  6. May 23, 2011 5:18 pm

    Coyote Ugly!!! I love Bridget!

  7. cath permalink
    July 3, 2011 1:01 pm

    Will Smith. . .enh.

    I liked him when I was a kid, and I loved him in ID4, but there’s just something about him now that makes me feel kind of enh about him.

    I know that in general, when I see Denzel in a movie nowadays, that movie is gonna be kinda good, even if it’s actually godawful (Training Day, for example. . .Oscar-worthy my fat fucking arse, he shoulda gotten it for one of the 8000000000000000 movies he actually gave Oscar-worthy performances in, stupid fucking Academy, how fucking dumb). I mean, Book of Eli? It’s nauseatingly predictable if you read the IMDB summary. But on screen, it just works. (Yes, I know that the rest of the cast is fucking sweet, but Denzel carries it, really.)

    Will used to be like that. Wild Wild West — absolutely fucking awful on paper (Kevin Kline? Steampunk with cops? HUH?!), kinda good because he was into it. I thought Hancock was just. . .flat. Not funny, not interesting, just. . .like I coulda not had it on and my nails would have looked just as good. Not unpleasant, but just. . .really bland.

    I dunno. Maybe I’ve just gone off Will in general. I’ve just thought tho. . .maybe I don’t like that Will is starting to age, which reminds me that I’m aging.

    I really don’t want to get old.

    Sorry, Will.

    In other news, I fucking love Blade Runner. Hot young Rutger Hauer. I can’t believe you bitchez were looking at Harrison Ford. Blech. Harrison Ford is NOT sexy. He’s too nice and clean. Rutger is dirty and sexy and YOWZA WOO HOO TEMPRANILLO NOM NOM NOM.

    Yes, I have had several glasses of wine.

  8. July 3, 2011 8:12 pm

    I fucking love you, Cath.

    In other news, I fucking love Blade Runner. Hot young Rutger Hauer. I can’t believe you bitchez were looking at Harrison Ford. Blech. Harrison Ford is NOT sexy. He’s too nice and clean. Rutger is dirty and sexy and YOWZA WOO HOO TEMPRANILLO NOM NOM NOM.

    I want this on a pillow or a series of pillows.

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