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Sunday, July 18, 2004
I, TIE-IN

"FIRST LAW: "THE STORY MUST NEVER SERVE STUFF OVER THE AUDIENCE."

The new Will Smith vehicle, I, Robot is not so much a piece of cinema as it a stylish piece of commercial advertising. Although shameless product placement has become a staple of big-budget movies, it becomes peculiarly awkward when you are trying to hawk 2004 goods in a futuristic, sci-fi arena. The only way they could manage it here, was to make Will Smith's character anti-technology, and then hope that we would accept the idea that he has accompanying fetishes to wear hundred-year old shoes and listen to hundred year old stereo systems. I suppose this makes his character an Austin Powers kind of animal -- only here, they are trying to play it straight.

There are three (ultimately insulting to the audience) refereneces to Will's hi-top sneakers, which he proudly describes to his grandmother as being "vintage 2004." I swear, he almost winked at the camera when he said it. Too bad he didn't. It would have provided one genuine laugh for the film. We get two close-ups of the brand of his stereo system, and four or five closeups of the Audi logo on the back of his car.

This is bad for the movie because it yanks the viewer out of the story. It is bad for society, because it makes selling products feel icky and manipulative.

"SECOND LAW: STORIES THAT SERVE AN ACTOR WILL FAIL, PARTICULARLY WHEN THEY ALSO VIOLATE THE FIRST LAW."

I generally enjoy Will Smith, but this project is as close to watching him prostitute himself as I have ever seen. Several times, we get long gratuitous looks at various naked parts of his formidable physique. There is even one long slow shot of the whole of him naked in a shower --from the side, but there he is, standing in a shower, letting the water pour out the sides of the tub onto the floor, because, well, if he pulled the shower curtain shut the camera wouldn't be able to catch him standing there beautifully unclad.

There just isn't much for Will to do here except swagger around modeling clothes and selling cars and sound-systems.

"THIRD LAW: MOVIES THAT POSTURE ABSURDITIES WILL FAIL, PARTICULARLY THOSE THAT VIOLATE THE FIRST AND SECOND LAWS."

This movie is so superficial in its treatment of a big theme, that I thought for a moment I was watching a Steven Spielberg film. It starts to make a point about why robots are not as good as people, and then ends up subverting that point by coming to the conclusion that really, really well-made robots can be as good as people. They can be unique and self-sacrificing and have dreams -- as long as you use a better kind of alloy, you see.

In a society that is so very confused about what makes personhood, I, Robot is just one more thing for thinking individuals to be depressed about. Or else, one more sign of the times for apostolic souls to pray about. Whatever. If it survives at all, it will only be to stand as a marveling point for future human societies. They'll watch the film in sociology and history and theology classes and scratch their heads saying, "You mean they really thought human beings and machines had the same value! No wonder they ended up destroying themselves!"