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I, Robot; De-Lovely: Deviations from the original

Every summer needs one massive mega-bomb to balance the scales, a Battlefield Earth or Gigli to serve as an easy target for smart-aleck critics, derisive audiences and bloodthirsty rival studios. Among this year's candidates was I, Robot (*** out of four), which finds Will Smith shoehorned into a high-tech yarn "inspired" by Isaac Asimov's collection of loosely related stories. There was just something about this particular project that carried the stench of a maggot-infested animal carcass -- or, at the very least, Shaquille O'Neal's socks after a grueling playoff game.

Wrong call on this one. If I remember correctly from the Dark Ages of high school (when I first read Asimov's book), about the only elements the movie retains are the Three Laws of Robotics and a character named Dr. Susan Calvin. So faithfulness to the source material isn't a strong point -- and that makes it different from other Hollywood adaptations exactly how? The important thing is that on its own terms, this delivers the goods as a zippy piece of sci-fi pulp. Will Smith brings his brand of street-smart cynicism and movie star charisma to the part of Del Spooner, a detective in 2035 Chicago who's convinced that a scientist has been murdered by one of his own robot creations. Only thing is, robots are programmed not to harm humans -- ever -- and Spooner's suspicions are dismissed as prejudice and paranoia. But he -- and the audience -- knows better.

I, Robot recalls a couple dozen futuristic flicks from our collective past (Blade Runner, Minority Report, you name it), but director Alex Proyas (The Crow) still manages to give the film a distinctive look. And even if Asimov's deep delving into the complexities and contradictions inherent in these artificial beings is only given lip service, the movie works as a compelling murder-mystery. And the robots are out of this world.

THERE'S A funny moment in De-Lovely (*** out of four) when, after a screening of the Cole Porter biopic Night and Day (starring Cary Grant), Cole (Kevin Kline) turns to his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) and cracks, "If I can survive this movie, I can survive anything."

Cole Porter will not only survive De-Lovely but may well find his already lofty reputation enhanced by it -- at least to a younger generation. The movie is often as narratively suspect as Night and Day and therefore should not be taken at face value -- director Irwin Winkler has even admitted, "The songs aren't always chronologically presented or typically interpreted ... The broad outlines of Porter's life are here, but placed within the framework of imagination, not scholarship... we have followed feeling, not history."

Fair enough. And Winkler is correct when he goes on to state that his film is faithful to the spirit of Cole Porter. As a musical, it's a dandy, using an innovative framing device and sharp cameos by today's music stars (Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole and more) to capture the passion that Cole poured into his tunes. Cole's homosexuality isn't MIA as it understandably was in the Grant version from 1946, and Winkler and scripter Jay Cocks paint a rich picture of a life marked by both success and excess.

Kline was the perfect choice to play Cole Porter, and Judd's sympathetic portrayal of Linda reminds us how fine an actress she can be when she tears herself away from inane thrillers. As for the music...well, the genius who created such enduring classics as "Anything Goes" and "Let's Misbehave" certainly needs no boost from me.

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