Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 5/30/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

I, Robot

Summertime is here. That means hot days, cookouts, and vacations, but it also means that the big-name movies are hitting the theaters. We’ve already seen Iron Man, Narnia, and Indiana Jones hit the big screen, and more are on the way. However, as enticing as the big-budget summer flicks can be, they don’t always end up being all that good (Men in Black 2, anyone?). With that in mind, this Friday’s Featured Film is a summertime gem from 2004 that was expertly done but that many of you may have missed – director Alex Proyas’ I, Robot. Perhaps Will Smith’s most underappreciated film, I Robot is perhaps the perfect summer action movie: visually stunning, a smart story, clever wit, and great characters.

Smith stars as Del Spooner, a detective with the Chicago PD in 2035. Robots are now an integral part of everyday life, acting as quiet servants to the world’s residents. Spooner doesn’t trust them, though – largely due to a traumatic event from his past that we get glimpses of as the story progresses. His suspicion is amplified when his good friend, robotics guru Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), is found dead on the eve of the rollout of a groundbreaking new model of robot, the NS5. Though all evidence points to suicide, Spooner is determined there’s more going on than meets the eye, and launches an investigation, much to the chagrin of his skeptical boss (Chi McBride). The robotics company assigns a rep (Bridget Moynahan) to look after Spooner, and the two of them are presented with a curious puzzle when they encounter a robot named Sonny (Alan Tudyk), the last creation of Lanning who appears to be quite a bit more than clockwork and synapses. Together, they seek to find out what happened to Lanning and whether or not it’s a sign of things to come.

Smith is absolutely phenomenal in the lead role. I think we’re seeing in him the paramount movie star of our generation. Smith is a likeable everyman with an irresistible cool factor and a razor sharp wit and delivery. However, he’s got a softer side to him as well, and he plays Spooner brilliantly as a damaged and broken man rather than a cardboard supercop. Moynahan delivers yet another rock-solid supporting performance, proving in roles like this one and her more recent Lord of War that she’s one of the most underrated actresses around today. Somebody needs to find her a starring role. Tudyk’s charm is undeniable even behind a CGI veneer, Cromwell’s fatherly presence drives the story forward, and even Mr. Next Big Thing Shia LeBeouf injects his trademark wit into a supporting role. Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) brings his keen visual style to the film, but also doesn’t shroud Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman’s (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, I Am Legend) sharp screenplay with bangs and flashes. The twists and turns of the story are well presented, the characters are deep, and the audiences’ brains stay engaged throughout in addition to their eyes. Proyas’ great success here has me looking forward to his next sci-fi foray, a 2009 release called Knowing starring Nicolas Cage. I, Robot is a fantastic film – a shining example of what the summer action film can be when done right. If you don’t feel like heading to the theater this weekend but still want that summer movie thrill, give this one a spin through your DVD player. You won’t be disappointed. - **** (out of 4)

I, Robot is rated PG-13 for intense stylized action, and some brief partial nudity.

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