Will Smith has seen off his fair share of baddies - George Foreman in Ali, a giant cockroach in Men In Black, CIA spooks in Enemy Of The State. This time he's up against the NS-5, a seemingly benign domesticated robot that will cook your dinner, walk your dog and even give you a back rub. It hardly seems a fair fight - the man who saved the world from the scum of the universe going head to head with a glorified dishwasher - but there's more to the NS-5 than meets the eye.

It's 2035 and the NS-5 is the latest must-have, a walking, talking chrome and aluminium robotic house pet, designed to blindly protect and serve mankind. Think a cross between The Terminator and Mary Poppins.

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Everyone has one, secure in the knowledge that the robots are "3 Laws Safe" - a robot cannot hurt a human, or allow a human to come to harm; a robot must obey a human's orders unless the orders conflict with the first law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesn't conflict with the first or second law.

Everyone loves the NS-5. Everyone except detective Del Spooner (Smith), that is. Spooner is a Luddite, who stubbornly clings to the past. He lives in a run down apartment and wears retro Converse trainers, circa 2003. He listens to golden oldies on a 30-year-old CD player that has a PLAY button instead of voice-activated controls.

Most of all, though, Spooner hates robots. When he sees one sprinting through a crowded street clutching a lady's handbag he automatically gives chase and rugby tackles it to the ground, only to discover it was simply rushing to the aid of its asthmatic owner. Inside the handbag is a life-saving inhaler.

Spooner is convinced the robots have their own agenda and when Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the scientist who developed the NS-5, leaps to his death from a skyscraper, Spooner thinks he's on to something. Everyone, from Spooner's boss to the head of the corporation funding the NS-5, puts it down as a suicide, but Spooner thinks otherwise and he already has a prime suspect, a "rogue" robot called Sonny, who was in the office when Lanning jumped.

Despite the futuristic gloss, you don't have to scratch the surface too hard to realise this is basically a good old-fashioned whodunnit. All the ingredients are there - the dead body, enough suspects to keep us guessing to the end and more than a few red herrings to trip us up along the way. Spooner, too, is an uncomplicated throwback, that staple of any old-fashioned actioner worth its salt - the maverick cop with a murky past who lives alone, argues with his boss and eventually has his badge confiscated.

It's familiar stuff, but it's rarely been done with such polish and gusto, from the gleaming skyscrapers to the slick dialogue and breathtaking set pieces, including a scintillating car chase in which Spooner, armed only with a handgun and a barrage of sassy one-liners, fends off an army of robots bent on silencing the one man standing in their way.

This is what Smith does best - shooting from the hip while kicking ass - but the film also has something to say about the spread of technology and the interaction between man and machine. It's not rocket science - at the end of the day, it's a Hollywood blockbuster - but it does try to tackle some of the issues addressed by Asimov in his fiction and should be applauded for that.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2004
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Will Smith saves the world again, this time from robots.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Alex Proyas

Writer: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman, based on short stories by Isaac Asimov

Starring: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Adrian Ricard, Chi McBride, the voice of Alan Tudyk

Year: 2004

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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