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New Release Review - Robocop

Remake of Paul Verhoeven's cult sci-fi action satire.

Directed by: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L Jackson, Michael K Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste


In the near future, America is at war in Iran. US troops have not been deployed on the ground, however, thanks to OmniCorp's robot soldiers. Back in the US, certain groups, the mouthpiece of whom is TV host Pat Novak (Jackson), are lobbying for OmniCorp's robots to replace human police officers, an idea shot down by the vast majority of the American public in a vote. The public's greatest concern is that robots have no soul, thus affecting how they might judge situations. OmniCorp CEO Ray Sellars (Keaton) decides on a new strategy, incorporating a recently paralyzed cop into a robotic frame. After he is rendered dead from the neck down following an explosion, Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is selected as the first guinea pig for this new project.
The idea of remaking Paul Verhoeven's cult 1987 action satire was first mooted around 10 years ago to a generally unenthusiastic response. Plans for a Darren Aronofsky directed Robocop ultimately led nowhere and a reboot seemed dead in the water until a few years ago when Jose Padhila was announced as director. The film-maker behind a series of rugged Brazilian cop movies, Padhila seemed like an interesting choice. An all star cast was then assembled, including a long overdue return to the screen for Michael Keaton, and suddenly audience's hopes were raised that Robocop just might be something more than another uninspired cash-in. The film is arriving to theaters almost under the radar now, however, with little in the way of fanfare or promotion. If Padhila and the strong cast had your hopes up, I'm sorry to break it to you that Robocop is indeed yet another uninspired cash-in.
Verhoeven's original is memorable for two main aspects; its over the top violence and satirical humor. With a family (and box-office) friendly PG-13 rating, we knew the former would be excised from this new version but how about the latter? Well, the movie opens with the sound of Jackson's Glenn Beck style conservative TV host exercising his throat before going live on air, imposed over the image of the roaring MGM lion, but that's where the comedic aspect of Padhila's film ends. The rest of the movie is as humorless as it is bloodless.
Kicking off in Tehran, the film seems to be attempting a comment on America's use of drones in its current Middle East engagements. The robotic soldiers assess whether a human is a threat or not largely by whether they're carrying anything that could be construed as a weapon. It's this clinical method of instant judgement that troubles the public back home and makes them wary about employing robots on the streets of US cities.
Sadly, this Tehran set segment is the film's most interesting sequence. Once Kinnaman is introduced we're given a sub-standard superhero tale for the rest of the movie. I'm guessing someone in Hollywood saw the success of the Iron Man franchise and looked around for something similar until Robocop ("Hey, this guy wears a metal suit too!") caught their attention. As a result we have a Robocop who can leap into the air like Iron Man, run at great speed like Iron Man and who likes to train to the sounds of hard rock, like AC/DC fan Iron Man.
The most common complaint about the first movie in a superhero franchise is how much time is devoted to the origin story at the expense of an actual plot and that applies here in spades. In Verhoeven's original, Robocop was out on the streets after a quickly paced first act but this iteration devotes more than half the film's running time to setting up a character most of the audience is likely already familiar with. It almost comes as a shock in the final half hour to learn that there's something resembling a plot at play here.
The biggest crime of Robocop is that it fails to simply live up to its title. The fun of the original was in seeing how a robotic cop would perform on his beat but we don't get any of that here. If Man of Steel failed because we didn't get to see its superhero acting heroic, Robocop fails because we don't get to see its cop being a cop.
3/10


Eric Hillis

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