Will Smith studies his robot, making sure
there's no empty spots left that he could
smack a few corporate logos onto.
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Nike has their bases covered this weekend. With A Cinderella Story and I, Robot, they've managed to stick their newly acquired Converse All Stars (see article and epitaph here) into both of this Friday's wide releases. Hopefully consumers will see this theatrical saturation for what it is, and avoid the shoes like the plague (or until Nike starts making a few of them in the United States and begins paying its employees around the world a decent wage). As far as the films? If you have any urge to see A Cinderella Story, you're beyond hope. I, Robot, on the other hand, is promising, yet fatally flawed. Its barefaced product placements are part of the reason.
The movie starts out with a nearly naked Del Spooner (Will Smith) thrashing around in his underwear. After the camera lingers on a JVC CD player, Del presses play and dances around, for no reason. He then hops in the shower and we get a distant ass shot of Del. Will Smith's sudden need to show off his body would make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush. Once Will/Del finally gets his ass out of the shower and dressed, he puts on a pair of Converse All Stars. He looks at them and talks about how great they are. Then a Federal Express robot shows up at his door, with a delivery (or maybe the Fedex bot was delivering the Converse -- it's hard to keep up with this many ads). Three prominent product placements in less than five minutes. Robert Zemeckis would be proud!
The placing of products continues throughout the duration of the film. Any action scenes involving automobiles are nearly destroyed by the four circles plastered everywhere on Del's car, indicating to the audience that, in 2035, real heroes only drive Audis. JVC makes another appearance in the film. It's a totally unnecessary and out-of-place scene that was added at the last minute to please the product placers rubbing their hands and salivating rabidly behind the cameras.
But, more than anything, it's those damn Converse.
Minutes after Del's initial ogling over his Chuck Taylor's, he lifts them up and shows them to his granny (Adrian L. Ricard). When Granny asks what he's wearing, he says something like, "Converse All Stars, vintage 2004." So much for the film's historical accuracy. As anyone with any pride in their shoe collection knows, Converse All Stars will only be considered vintage through 2002. When Nike bought them in 2003, they turned into nothing but another novelty item to be shilled in mediocre Will Smith movies.
Later in the film, Lt. John Bergin (Chi McBride) calls Del back, only to say, "Nice shoes." Another scene written for no reason other than to advertise Converse takes place after a big battle with robots in a tunnel. Del manages to escape from his Audi and shake the bots off of his back, but he soon notices his shoes are covered in a black, oily substance. These are his "vintage" Converse All Stars. Del's not happy. He swears revenge on the robots, due to the mess on his shoes.
Yikes! Do the writers and director of this film know no shame?
I, Robot has dropped any shred of subtlety usually reserved for product placements, essentially turning itself into a 120 minute commercial. It's surprising the suits didn't go ahead and rename it, I, Converse.
Before Nike, JVC, Audi, FOX and Ovaltine (yes... Ovaltine) choked the life out of it; there was probably a pretty good screenplay here, with the potential to mature into an entertaining film. As it turns out, I, Robot is nothing more than a once promising picture turned corporate. It feels as though the film was assembled and spit out of a factory somewhere in Indonesia. A lot of this can be blamed on the movie's director, Alex Proyas.
Alex was one of the reasons I had hope for this movie. In 1998 he wrote and directed one of my favorite sci-fi films of the past decade, Dark City. I, Robot is set in a futuristic Chicago. No matter how many goofy looking slow-motion shots he adds to the film, Proyas is unable to breathe any life into the city, or make it seem believable. Chicago 2035 comes off more as the theme park attraction based on I, Robot than I, Robot, itself. With its lackluster set design, the film could be subtitled Drab City.
The screenwriters aren't much help. Akiva Goldsman obviously knocked this one out in a hurry, while dreaming up ideas for the much anticipated (at least by me), Memoirs of a Geisha. The only major motion picture Jeff Vintar wrote before Robot was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Jeff really didn't have much to live up to. How can a person possibly fall into a sophomore slump when their freshman film was Final Fantasy? Maybe he spent too much time trying to work "Very Special Converse Moments™" into his story than he was in actually creating a quality film.
The movie has a handful of things that will make it worth watching on cable, someday. Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is a treat to watch. The CG animated robot is convincing, both in personality and in effects. The audience actually seemed to care about this character's fate. The movie does take a few twists and turns, but only ends up more predictable than you even predicted it would. At the same time, as corny and predictable as it gets, the film has a satisfactory -- albeit generic -- ending, full of adequate action and limited suspense. The demolition droid (or whatever the hell it's called) was a nifty looking metallic beast, and you can't entirely hate a movie that features a gigantic disco ball as a primary character (VIKI).
I, Robot tries too hard, while not trying hard enough. It's constantly trying to entertain the audience, but it's only hinting at philosophical arguments about what it means to be a human. How one becomes an individual. What it means to be free. Instead it turns itself into one gigantic chase film with a few too many corporate commercials. Think the BMW shorts that were released a few years ago. I know that I would have been willing to sacrifice a few comments about Converse All Stars for a few more serious moments that delve into the psyche of humans and the robots that they create.
But maybe that's just me.
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