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'The Clearing ' does kidnapping right; Robot' fun summer fare; 'Control Room' weil turn your dials.

In “I, Robot,” there are three unbreakable Laws of Robotics designed to protect humans from their robot servants. Despite the laws, Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) has a deep distrust of and antipathy for robots. In fact, you might say Spooner is a robot bigot, even engaged in “robot profiling.” So when Spooner comes to believe that a robot named Sonny (Alan Tudyk) has murdered the “Father of Robotics,” Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), by throwing him out of a window of the U.S. Robotics building, everyone — including his boss, (Chi McBride as Lt. John Bergin), a USR psychologist (Bridget Moynahan as Dr. Susan Calvin) and the president of USR (Bruce Greenwood as Lance Robertson) — thinks Spooner’s irrational hatred of robots has clouded his judgment. Spooner, investigating Lanning’s death, becomes increasingly convinced that there has been a fundamental change in the new generation of NS5 robots, that possibly someone — Lanning, Robertson or both — has changed the hard-wiring to allow robots to disregard the Laws. And, since USR is about to effect the largest distribution of NS5 robots in history, Spooner sees huge problems on the horizon. So is Spooner a crazy, bigoted paranoid? Why did Lanning leave him a cryptic, posthumous, holographic message as well as a copy of “Hansel and Gretel.” Are the robots planning a revolution or is Spooner just nuts? Based on Isaac Asimov’s novel, “I, Robot” is a solidly entertaining, often intriguing action flick. It never quite succeeds in taking us into that magical realm where we utterly suspend our sense of disbelief, but neither does it lapse into the self-indulgent sloppiness that makes us hoot at the screen in derision. Directed by Alex Proyas and written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, “I, Robot” isn’t a great movie. It’s not even a great action movie. But it is great fun and has some very important lessons about being careful about giving up liberties for personal comfort and security. These are lessons that seem even more worthy of heeding in this era of Patriot Acts and Homeland Security. Which is a nice segue to a discussion of “Control Room,” Jehane Noujaim’s intensely level-headed and low-key look at media coverage of the latest U.S. war with Iraq with a particular emphasis on the Al Jazeera television network. Al Jazeera, you’ll recall, was repeatedly and consistently demonized by the U.S. during the war. Donald Rumsfeld called it a mouthpiece for Bin Laden and said it propagated lie after lie. What we see in “Control Room,” however, is a news organization determined to be as thorough, objective and fair in its coverage as any U.S. organization and much more so than a certain Australian-owned American cable news channel. What we are supposed to take from “Control Room” is that perception will always color objectivity. When we see dead Americans dragged through the streets of Baghdad, we’re horrified, outraged and repulsed. When we see piles of dead Iraqi civilians and soldiers, we adopt a ”hey, it’s a war” and “they had it coming” attitude. Yet we are constitutionally incapable of realizing that Iraqis and other Arabs might have just the opposite reaction. So it’s no surprise that how you’ll react to “Control Room” will be colored by your own perceptions. If you believe Fox News is “fair and balanced,” you’ll think “Control Room” is a biased screed against America. If you think there’s the slightest chance that the American government and military might have a vested interest in trying to influence the media for propaganda purposes during a controversial war — and if you feel there possibly could be two sides to most stories — you’ll come away with a sense of outrage and dismay. Whatever your beliefs, “Control Room” might not change your mind, but it could open it a crack.
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