23 August 2004 | bob the moo
A clichéd cop thriller crossed with sci-fi but it is noisy, enjoyable fun - all a summer action film should be
It is the year 2035 and the world has forgotten the lessons we learnt in the 20th Century from films like Bladerunner and Terminator. Robots are the new must have accessory, carrying out menial tasks for households and boosting profits for businesses that have workforces not requiring payment. While this is now the norm, Officer Del Spooner refuses to move with the times and, due to an incident in his past refuses to accept the robots as anything approaching human. When an old friend, Dr Lanning head of the robotics company, is found dead everyone suspects suicide but Spooner suspects a robot that flees the crime scene. Despite the robotics company lawyering up, Spooner continues his investigations and, several more malfunctions later, he begins to uncover a much bigger problem with the robots.
When the film opens with a flashback scene that cuts to a bitter, old-fashioned cop who dresses like Shaft and don't take no rubbish from his weary captain I immediately started to worry that this would simply be a clichéd cop thriller in fancy clothes and, in some ways, that is what it was. But it is also good fun and, along with Spiderman 2, stands out as one of the best of this years generally disappointing crop of blockbusters. The plot is interesting enough to keep the film going and, although it goes just where you will expect it to if you've seen Terminator (or had any involvement in popular culture) it builds gradually with an intriguing investigation leading to a very impressive climax. The set pieces are well directed and are mixed well with the drama and the film delivers just what I had come expecting fun, excitement, effects and an involving story.
Of course this is not to ignore the fact that the film has its weak points. The worn 'tough cop' clichés are heavy on the ground and show a script that hasn't put as much effort into its characters as it really should have this is also seen in Calvin, who's background with Lanning is hinted at but never followed though. The film also hints at a very intelligent story around the robots but again it never totally follows through in as much detail as it could have done. The structure of the society is not clear if robots have taken many jobs how can everyone afford a robot? Spooner lives in a poor, overcrowded area with graffiti on the walls but yet everyone owns a robot. While I accept that the film couldn't go into the whole universe behind the scenario, it could have shown us an underclass just as easily as it showed us what I suspect were the middle classes. Likewise the final shot of the film implies that there is more to the robot-ethics of the story but mostly this is put to the side in favour of running and shooting. But these are minor complaints when you accept that this is not art it is a blockbuster and, in this way, it succeeds and is an enjoyable film.
Matching the lazily written character that he is given, Smith plays it like Shaft. He eats pie and takes lots of sugar (but yet has a superb body can't wait for that part of the future!), makes wisecracks and sneers a lot.
He tries to bring something individual out in Spooner but mostly he settles for playing along with the clichés and delivers a familiar performance but one that fits well with the aims of the film. Moynnahan is a bit dry but actually works better than the usual screaming love interest that we get served with thankfully the film resists the temptation to impose a romance on us. Tudyk looks the part and does a very good 'HAL' voice but he is constrained by his character and can only work within that but he works it well enough. Greenwood is a good part, Cromwell's familiarity helps us care for a character who has died before the film even starts, McBride is the gruff, weary captain but basically the film is Smith's and his Shaft is quite fun. Outside of the real things, the effects are great they look real and match the design of the future which is at the other end of the scale from the usual grim future that we all suspect will be nearer the truth! Alex Proyas may not be a great master of the narrative but he does OK here while also indulging his first love the visual effects and style.
Overall this is an enjoyable summer blockbuster and stands out in the crowd of average sequels and trashy attempts at blockbusters that have crawled in and out of our cinemas this year. Yes, it's full of the usual tough cop genre clichés and the sci-fi element doesn't get as interesting or morally complex as it should have done but this is an action movie and I found it to do all the things I needed to do to entertain me set pieces, interesting story, fun, effects that are actually special and a film that builds to a satisfying (if overblown) conclusion. In the cold light of day it is an imperfect film but it is easily one of the better blockbusters of 2004.