A DOUBLE FIZZLE this summer, I, Robot comes off as a C-grade Blade Runner wanna-be, with Will Smith chasing the distant footsteps of Harrison Ford. It's a pity because the film, based on the three famous robot laws of Isaac Asimov, had plenty of potential, and Smith is one of the few young stars today to show Ford's same confident charm before the camera. (I speak of Ford's early Star-Wars-and-Indiana-Jones-period ease, lately ossified into a scowl.) On DVD Dec. 14, the movie fuses sci-fi and detective genre elements in 2035 Chicago; Smith is a cop, unlike Ford's bounty hunter, but they share a common suspicion of androids who claim to have human emotions. Unfortunately, the murder Smith investigates only leads to car chases, flying glass, and CGI swarms of rebellion-minded robots, with the smart stuff getting trampled underfoot.
On the commentary, one senses how director Alex Proyas (Dark City) and co-writer Akiva Goldsman (an Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind) got caught between two different scripts (one sci-fi, the other a murder mystery) and their powerful star. The studio- mandated result had to be "not grim and ultimately hopeful," per Goldsman. The cheerful outcome is a long way from Blade Runner's future noir or Robocop's police-state satire. Other extras lend little to the movie.
Even the future isn't that interesting. Smith's supposedly old-school cop wears retro Converse high-tops but drives a swoopy new Audi on highways that are always suspiciously empty. Apparently the mid–21st century's transportation problems have been solved by, yes, a monorail! When, in one of the movie's few good plot twists, an injured Smith reveals a robotic arm, I, Robot could've turned brilliant by making its robo-phobic hero a cyborg himself. But that kind of paranoid Philip K. Dick reversal may have to wait another 31 years.
DEC. 7 BRINGS The Bourne Supremacy to disc, along with The Ultimate Matrix Collection (see p.22 in this week's gift guide) and David Lynch's 1990 Wild at Heart (with cast and filmmaker interviews among other extras). Three Buster Keaton movies, including The Cameraman, are bundled with some documentaries on the silent-era star; director George Stevens also gets a tribute set containing Gunga Din. Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller play dirty in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Maria Full of Grace may earn star Catalina Sandino Moreno an Oscar nom. And Criterion has a new two-disc edition of Fritz Lang's brilliant 1931 crime thriller, M.