Putting a human face on a robot has been a favorite sci-fi topic for years, and nearly anyone familiar with the genre would attribute this humanizing trend to Isaac Asimov's pioneering novel I, Robot. While this film bears the same title as the famous author's celebrated book, the best term to describe the relationship between the half-century old story and this 2004 movie is the one found in the film's credits: "Suggested by Isaac Asimov's I, Robot."
Unlike the nine interlinked stories that were penned by Asimov, this film takes on a far more traditional movie approach by having a lone protagonist named Del Spooner (Will Smith) saddled with saving the world from an upcoming distribution of what he thinks may be misguided androids. A detective for the City of Chicago, Spooner is convinced there is a problem with the ever-increasing population of robots, but no one will believe him.
That's because Spooner's boss, and the rest of the population, have great faith in the "three laws of robotics" which are hard-wired into every robot"s operating system. The three-fold obligation essentially prevents any robot from harming a human, even if his master orders him to do so.
But when Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), a top robotic scientist with behemoth firm US Robotics, suddenly appears to have taken his life just hours before they introduce thousands of their latest androids, Spooner is more convinced than ever that at least one of the machines has a screw loose. Targeting Lanning's personal robot, Sonny (Alan Tudyk), as the primary suspect, Smith faces increased opposition from scientist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) as he tries to investigate the facts.
Spooner's near paranoia for the metal men is no secret to Calvin, but she and the audience are both left wondering what the backstory is that has left the cop so uneasy with the same technology the rest of the world is embracing. However, as Spooner digs deeper into the inner workings of the robot craze, even Calvin admits to the possibility of a "ghost within the machine."
This sci-fi and mystery hybrid may at least give older teens a suitable title to see. Violence is frequent, yet with the exception of a human body seen in a pool of blood, computer generated robots are the primary target of destruction. Extended scenes of dialogue -- albeit often poorly written, especially when Smith and Moynahan begin calling each other "dumb" -- help to break up the action and lower the overall intensity, but expect a smattering of mild to moderate profanities.
Sexual content is limited to separate scenes of Smith and Moynahan each taking a shower (but not together). While a glass door heavily obscures the latter actress, Smith's character hasn't picked up a curtain for his bath yet, allowing us to see the naked actor carefully positioned from the side. While both moments are brief and no explicit nudity is in view, it's unnecessary "eye candy."
The other visual aspects of I,Robot are much more appealing, with automatic cars and streamlined buildings created to portray what is likely a far-fetched look at Chicago in 2035. Intermingled with present-day architecture and societal values, this film's theme reminds us that human imperfection may be our greatest attribute.