I, Robot
dir. Proyas
Opens Fri July 16
Various Theaters

When 20th Century Fox decided to adapt Isaac Asimov’s canonical but nearly unadaptable science fiction text I, Robot, they came up with an utterly unsurprising solution: ditch Asimov’s philosophy and scien

ce, swipe his title, and insert a bankable star. Throw in some slick action sequences and cutting-edge CG, and you’ve got your adaptation.

The surprise, however, is when one realizes how well this tactic works. While the film version of I, Robot might be a really dumb version of Asimov’s book, it’s also probably the smartest action movie of the summer.

The film opens in 2035, with robots thoroughly engrained in society. In a smart opening sequence, director Alex Proyas seamlessly works robots into city streets—they walk dogs, carry groceries, even sprint home to retrieve their asthmatic owner’s forgotten inhaler. Not everyone is keen on mankind’s cybernetic dependence, however—namely Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith). But Spooner’s misgivings are validated when the designer of the robots ends up dead, apparently killed by his latest robotic creation.

None of that happens in the book, by the way, but that’s the solid thing about Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay—borrowing from Asimov when appropriate, it also develops a story of its own. Proyas, who demonstrated with Dark City that he’s gifted visually, infuses a fluid inventiveness as he films two hyper-kinetic robots fighting, or sets a precarious action scene hundreds of feet above the ground. Digital Domain and Weta Digital, the two effects houses largely responsible for the CG robots, contribute astonishing work with the iMac-looking robots, bringing them to vivid, often chilling life. Proyas makes these android characters an integral part of the film’s narrative; if Asimov wrote about man’s relationship with technology, Proyas full-heartedly demonstrates man’s use of technology to tell an exciting story.

It’s that vigor that hoists I, Robot above standard summer action fare. That’s not to say there aren’t flaws—Smith’s Fresh Prince-y charm makes it pretty impossible to believe that Spooner’s really the paranoid outcast all the other characters keep insisting he is, and the Schwarzenegger-y comebacks Smith shouts feel like they were written by a soundbite-savvy studio CEO. But since those are the film’s biggest problems, I, Robot is in pretty good shape. Sure, I, Robot isn’t the epochal literary event Asimov had with his book, but it is a strong, enjoyable, and intelligent summer action movie—something that’s laudable enough on its own grounds.