When is I, ROBOT not I, Robot? When it's a script called Hardwired conflated with elements of Isaac Asimov's seminal robot tales, including bits of the nine loosely connected short stories collected in 1950's I, Robot and snippets of the later robot novels, massaged to suit Will Smith's action-guy persona. There's so little Asimov in the mix that his contribution is relegated to a "suggested by" credit, and sci-fi savvy moviegoers will recognize the movie's debt to BLADE RUNNER (1982), ROBOCOP (1987) and 2001 (1968). The surprise: Derivativeness aside, it's an unexpectedly engaging futuristic mystery that hinges on the confounding possibility that a mechanical being may have murdered cutting-edge roboticist Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), even though standard robot programming should make such a crime impossible. All robots are hardwired with three laws: Harming a human being or letting one be hurt is forbidden; human orders must be obeyed, except when they contradict the first law; and self-preservation is required unless it conflicts with either of the first two directives. Chicago, 2035: Robots are everywhere, not just toiling in factories and low-level service jobs, but in people's homes, running errands, cooking, walking dogs and cleaning. US Robotics, the world's largest manufacturer of humanoid automata, is about to launch the new NS5 model, which CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) hopes will bring the corporate dream of a robot in every home one step closer to reality. Consumers, lulled by USR's assertion that their products are "three laws safe," seem ready to embrace the future. But robophobic police detective Del Spooner (Smith) is convinced that a machine will one day defy its allegedly foolproof programming and commit a heinous crime, and when he's called upon to investigate Dr. Lanning's apparent suicide, he immediately suspects the superadvanced robot Lanning called Sonny (Alan Tudyk). Sonny looks alike any other NS5, but is capable of disobedience, abstract thought and perhaps even emotions. Why would Lanning build such an abomination, and why is USR determined to thwart Spooner's investigation? The mystery is rudimentary, there's a numbing sameness to the inevitable high-stakes action sequences and transforming Asimov's Dr. Susan Carter (Bridget Moynahan) from an older woman to a buttoned-up babe is a blatant sop to the 18-to-24-year-old males who comprise a hefty slice of the sci-fi demographic. But some provocative ideas slip through the mayhem, and Tudyk's performance — although Sonny is computer generated, Tudyk supplied his voice and body language — provides the story's emotional core, an irony Asimov would surely have appreciated.
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