Jacq Vaucan is an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation who investigates cases of robots violating their primary protocols against altering themselves. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.
The movie opens saying in 2044 massive solar flares attacked the Earth, killing 97.3% of the population. Humanity took a turn for the worse, losing both technical prowess and being whittled down to about 21 million people when we catch up with them. Just after the calamity, some company (ROC?) made the breakthrough in humanoid robots. These robots were supposed to be the saviors of mankind, but I guess they amounted to a whole lot of nothing. They also have only two laws, which makes for a 33% discount from those manufactured by US Robotics. Law one, don’t hurt anything living. Law two, robots aren’t allowed to repair or modify themselves.
Now we are taken to a police man (Dylan McDermott) in a car. His radio says it will start raining in ten seconds, and it does, so this might be a Back to the Future 2 kind of future. He drives a short distance and then decides to walk around in a subway or something. What should he uncover, but lo and behold, a robot. And this robot seems to be fixing itself! This cop decides to go all Judge Dredd on the robot and shoots it in the face.
Now we get introduced to Jacq Vaucon (Antonio Banderas). Apparently some family filed a claim with the insurance company he works for that a robot brushed their dog to death, and they want compensation. Jacq pulls a large kitchen knife from a sink full of dishes and proceeds to demonstrate that the robot will prevent someone from harming themselves (he drops the knife on his hand and the robot catches it) and that these robots CAN move quickly if they are motivated enough. These people own a robot, but their house is a pigsty and they have a sink full of dirty dishes. So what is this robot bringing to the table for this family? Anyways, Jacq denies their claim.
Jacq now walks over to his office and gets a new assignment to investigate the robot the cop shot. There is garbage and the like all over the place, where are all the stupid robots? Why aren’t they cleaning stuff up? Jacq and some lab tech start looking into the robot, trying to figure out if it was really malfunctioning. Cop genius shot the robot right in its CPU, so any memories or what not it had are toast. Jacq figures this is just the work of some “Clocksmith” who is tinkering with the robots.
Jacq goes to the scene of the robocide (robot homicide), and in the process discovers the robot had hid a nuclear battery. He also finds out that some of the parts are registered to a robot that works outside the wall. He goes up on the wall (which as far as I can tell just divides the filthy city dwellers from the filthy people outside the city) and sees a woman scavenging an old CRT monitor. She is promptly shot and killed. The man on the wall tells Jacq they shoot on sight now. I don’t know what the harm is of this woman having an old CRT monitor, but I guess it is worth killing to protect. Jacq finds the robot with the missing parts and follows it outside. Would you believe the guy on the wall starts immediately shooting at him? I would, and so should Jacq, since it wasn’t like five minutes ago that he was told they shot anyone who approached the wall. This might be why Jacq is just a claims investigator.
Jacq follows the robot into a cargo container. The robot sees Jacq, and then promptly lights itself on fire and kills itself. Jacq takes the remains back to his work to be examined, and they don’t believe his story because a robot isn’t supposed to do that. Jacq decides to take the cpu from the first murdered robot and got outside the city to look for a Clocksmith. He has the cop drive him. This probably reduces the likelihood of him getting shot from the crazies guarding the wall.
The cop has some kind of contact in the filthy not-city, and they go there first. They are promptly introduced to what might be the worst robot prostitute ever built. The cop is so offended by the quality of this robot of the night he decides to shoot it. Actually, I’m starting to think this cop is the unhinged version of Will Smith’s character from iRobot. Henceforth he will be known as Robot Hating Cop (RHC). RHC abandons Jacq, and for the first time in the movie, Jacq does something intelligent. He waits outside this house of ill repute, and follows the people that take the robot for repairs.
Jacq’s sleuthing pays off and he manages to find a Clocksmith. This woman (Melanie Griffith) eventually lets him in (despite him being a danger to her business and life as an illegal robot tamperer) and Jacq explains the erratic behavior he has started to see in robots. He gives her the first broken cpu (from the inciting incident) and asks her to retrieve info. She says she can’t, but she’ll call him if she discovers anything.
Jacq returns home to his pregnant wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, that’s Sorensen with a zero, in case you missed it). Anytime during the movie that he sleeps he has a dream (memory?) of a boy playing on a beach. He tells his wife he wants to move them to the ocean. She says they have a decent life here. There seems to be some uncertainty about whether the ocean even exists anymore, but Jacq is driven by this dream and a hope of a better future for his unborn child.
At this point I’d like to point out that throughout this movie there are giant holographic exotic dancers constantly in the background as our protagonist goes around the city. For a society on the decline, it doesn’t make sense. Who is paying for these massive projectors to be running all the time? How are they making money off this, because it seems to be free to the viewing public? When the human race is dwindling down to nothing, is this really a priority?
Anyhoo, Jacq gets a fax from the our lady Clocksmith, and he goes back out to her place. She installed that damaged cpu into the prostitute robot, and it repaired its gimp leg the cop left it with. Jacq was followed to this site by the evil robot corporation he works for. They show up and promptly kill the Clocksmith. As Jacq is making his escape he jumps in a car. Who should he find driving it but Cleo the Robot Prostitute.
Cleo just starts driving them straight out into the desert. For some reason there are ton of metal things out there. They are somewhat like beach obstacles from a long forgotten war. Anyways, Cleo is weaving around these while the assassins pursue her (and Jacq). Eventually she swerves the car at the slightly past last moment and this causes the assassins to crash and burn (literally). Cleo also crashes. Jacq is badly injured. He comes to asking for help and to go back to city, but Cleo just takes off, like the heartless robot that she (it) is. Sometime later she returns with a few other robots and they drag Jacq away from the city on a car seat.
Jacq eventually wakes up and asks the robots to take him back to the city, but they insist they can’t go back. Jacq is pretty distraught. They subsequently feed him some wormy grub things they found, and build a water reclamation system. Meanwhile, back at the city, the evil corportation have sent Robot Hating Cop and a couple other guys looking for Jacq. They find the scene of the two crashes and begin to follow the tracks into the desert. Eventually RHC sees some reflection coming from Jacq and is able to hone in on their location. He sends his cronies and there is a standoff between the humans and the robots. The robots seem to think that preserving life is important (Cleo certainly didn’t feel that way when she drove her pursuers into that obstacle which resulted in their deaths). The standoff ends with a couple of dead robots and a dead human. Robot Hating Cop steals a nuclear battery and flees while the buzzards show up to eat the body. So far Earth’s quest to become a lifeless planet it looking pretty sad, because even in this bleak desert there are worm things and a large number of buzzards that must be eating something other than humans. So even in this bad movie, life finds a way.
Jacq is still in no shape to get rid of Cleo and her robot pal, and they continue taking him away from the city towards some irradiated zone. Meanwhile, back in “civilization” Jacq’s wife goes into labor and is taken to the hospital. Since Jacq is on the run, his employee status (and therefore his health insurance) is in question, where’s the ACA now? It seems crazy to me that a society that recognizes that humans are dying off and might go extinct are more concerned with making sure their giant pornographic holograms are running than with preserving human life. Anyways, everything gets sorted out when the evil corporation boss man realizes he can use Jacq’s wife and baby as a hostage. He reveals to her (for some bizarre reason) that the first robot CPU they built didn’t have the two laws, and it seemed to have limitless capacity to learn and grow. Before they shut that robot apocalypse down, he asked it to make them two laws which would govern all future robots. It did, because it is apparently stupid, but maybe it hid something in there that would later manifest itself. We’ll never know the truth.
Back to Jacq and his robot companions, they have arrived at the edge of a huge ravine. Jacq gets excited about seeing the remains of a truck which couldn’t possibly have any chance of ever running, and is subsequently disappointed when he finds it is missing its engine. He then meets the leader of the robot resistance (he’s unnamed, but we’ll call him Skynet). Skynet is the source of this robot uprising (not surprisingly) and is attempting to build a new robot, but needs Jacq’s battery. Oh, somehow Jacq has another nuclear battery. You know, the supposedly super rare batteries? Jacq has apparently found like three of them in the last few days.
Skynet, the head robot, says that humans are basically going to die out, but their memory will live on in the robots, noting they have hands only because humans do. Then this same jerk robot builds a new robot that looks like a spider. So much for the image of man living beyond the species. Jacq decides to give up his battery, and Skynet, Cleo, and unnamed robot number three get the new generation of robot working. Also, Jacq has a weird dance with Cleo at some point. Out of the goodness of their cold robot hearts, they also somehow fix up that old truck for Jacq. Then they try to skip town by taking a still functional crane across the ravine. Just as they are doing this (sending only one robot across at a time) RHC shows up with a new posse, along with Jacq’s captive wife and newborn.
RHC can’t stand the idea of robots escaping, so he starts shooting at the one crossing the ravine. This robot stupidly tries to jump the last 20 feet or so, and promptly falls to its death. I’m guessing it is because at no time have we seen the robots demonstrate the level of dexterity that jump would have required. Robots should know their own limits. The posse round up the other two robots (Cleo and Skynet) and summarily start to kill them, starting with Skynet, but then new Spider-robot intervenes, and eventually the bad humans are killed while the good ones remain alive. I’m paraphrasing here, to save you the long boring ending as seen on film. Cleo and spider robot escaped to the irradiated zone, and Jacq and his family head back to the city. Jacq eventually convinces his wife to go to that beach he is always dreaming about.