You might be forgiven for thinking that, when you plonk down your money to see I, Robot, you're going to get a Men In Black-ish, Will Smith sci-fi adventure. And for a lot of the running time, that's exactly what you do get. Those after a slavish cinematic adaptation of Isaac Asimov's The Caves Of Steel or any of his other automaton tales will find little beyond some character names and those three all-important robotics laws. But that's not to say this is a bloated, programmed run-through of clichés.
Because what we have here is a summer blockbuster that's been hardwired with a little more intelligence than usual. It might not be a Solaris-level rumination on the nature of existence, but I, Robot's script subtly touches on slavery, fascism and man/ machine interaction, while still being peppered with recognisable, Smith-flavoured quips and kinetic action set-pieces. The expected money shots don't fail to impress either, with a mid-movie car-tunnel crunch proving particularly pulse-pumping.
To his credit, Smith is trying a new style here. This is not the one-dimensional Slick Willie of Independence Day. His 'tec is a bitter throwback, a man uncomfortable in a droid-filled America and sceptical of any technology that can think for itself. He doesn't get up to the usual no-scratch heroics either, one particular robo-scrap ending with a bedraggled and bloodied Spooner cursing his luck.
On the downside, Alex Proyas, the man who brought a unique vision to life in cult fave Dark City, is somewhat hamstrung by the conventions of what, in essence, is a basic detective story: clue A leads to clue B while Smith's loner cop faces a wall of scepticism along the way. But he and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos have at least created a dazzling future-world, the effects seamlessly integrated with the actors. Best of all is Alan Tudyk, who invests metal-man Sonny with more emotion than the entire human cast put together.
Smarter than the average popcorn fare, yet still delivering on the gosh-wow moments we've come to expect, I, Robot surfs a wave of bad buzz to deliver a pleasant midsummer surprise.
Though a little clockwork Hollywood at times, a solid story means this is always compelling. A truly worthy effort from Smith, Proyas and Co.