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RoboCop (2014)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Don't Tase Me, Ro!"
2 stars

Although it has long maintained a position of prominence in the cinematic pantheon, there was a time when the very notion of "Roboop" earned nothing but scorn and derision from the fanboy element that has gone on to canonize it. With a title and premise straight out of a Roger Corman knockoff of both "Terminator" and the macho cop movies that were all the rage at the time, a cast of vaguely familiar faces that collectively could not open an envelop and a controversial European filmmaker apparently selling out his artistic sensibilities for a lucrative stab at working within the Hollywood system, And yet, it proved to be one of the happiest and most unexpected surprises of the generally lackluster summer on 1987--a film that had the audacity to combine ultra-violent action, biting social satire and religious allegory and the skill to pull it all off better than anyone, perhaps even director Paul Verhoeven himself, could have possibly hoped. The film was an enormous critical and popular favorite and not even a string of increasingly pointless sequels and spin-offs including, as I recall, an animated series aimed at viewers who were theoretically too young to have actually seen the original, could dim the affection that audiences have felt towards it for the last quarter-century.

As a result, when it was announced that "Robocop" would be getting the inevitable remake treatment, there was a level of genuine outrage over the news, even amongst those who weren't even alive back in 1987. Tempers flared even more when it was learned that the film, whose ancestor set a new bar for the depiction of on-screen violence, would be receiving the far more commercially viable PG-13 rating. Having seen the new "Robocop," I can assure you that is not merely a retread of beloved material with nary a fresh take and that the PG-13 is hardly an issue. (If you had told m 20 years go that I would be seeing a PG-13 Robocop film, I would have said "Yeah, I saw "Robocop 3"--what of it?") No, the problem this time around is that "Robocop" has been transported into the explosion-filled bore that most people expected the original to be and not even a good and game cast can save it from terminal mediocrity. If the original "Robocop" was the rare case of a film being far smarter than many might have expected it to be, this iteration is nowhere near as smart as it clearly thinks itself to be.

Set in the not-too-distant future, "Robocop" begins with the notion that technologically advanced robot warriors are being deployed throughout the world as peacekeepers as a way on continuing to wage war without antagonizing a war-weary public by putting more American lives at risk. The main supplier of the robots, the subtly named OmniCorp, would love to introduce their creations in America in order to help police the increasingly lawless and violent streets and, more importantly, fatten up the bottom line but alas, the public is not too thrilled with the idea of mindless robots making life-or-death decisions on their streets and a liberal-minded senator has passed a bill outlawing such contraptions on U.S. soil. Of course, a little thing like federal law is not going to stop OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) when billions of dollars in potential profits are on the line and so he brainstorms the idea of finding a physically damaged cop or soldier and using the latest technological advances supplied by the brilliant Dr. Dennet Norton (Gary Oldman) to create a human-robot hybrid that will be virtually impossible to destroy while still retaining enough human elements to make people comfortable with giving it so much authority over their lives.

The unwitting volunteer for the Robocop program is Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an honest policeman in the violent cesspool of Detroit (the same locale as the earlier film--some things never change) who has sworn to bring down a local drug kingpin by any means necessary. Alas, there are plenty of dirty cops on the payroll and after an attempted bust goes sour, a car bomb lands Murphy--or what is left of him--in the hospital with little more than a heart, a brain and a surprisingly unblemished face. Convincing her that it is the only hope that her husband has, Norton convinces Murphy's grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to consent to the robocopping. A few months later, the process is complete but there is one small hitch to the proceedings--the human part of Murphy that still exists tends to override the purely mechanical functions and causes him to hesitate at key moments. Denton tries to work around this--he first rewires Murphy so that when he is in combat mode, he is purely automatic even though he thinks he is in control and later shuts down his emotional functions completely--but no matter what, Murphy's feelings for his family and his desire to bring all bad guys to justice eventually dominate. This, by the way, gets a little more complicated when, in a shocking turn of events, it becomes evident that OmniCorp may not entirely have his best interests at heart.

As you can see, this iteration of "Robocop" has two things going for it--a storyline that touches upon some of the elements of the original while still forging its own creative path and a better-than-average cast--and it is therefore kind of frustrating to see both of them more or less squandered on what eventually turns out to be just another violent (though not enough to merit a slap from the ever-hypocritical MPAA, a group that celebrates massive brutality as long as filmmakers don't dare to show any of the real and messy repercussions of such acts) and completely anonymous action fantasy. (Oh, if you were wondering how "Robocop" could possibly get a PG-13 rating, it is because instead of gunning down the bad guys in gruesome fashion as in the past, he pretty much just tases people throughout.) When Verhoeven made his version, he had things to say about the America he was first encountering--the dark side of its corporate culture, its seemingly endless capacity for bloodlust and the way that its people can be easily manipulated by those in power into going against their own rights and self-interest in the name of "freedom"--that helped to elevate it from the comparatively brainless macho fantasies of Stallone and Schwarzenegger that were still clogging multiplexes at the time.

This time around, there is very little of that on display, other than the occasional interruptions from right-wing television commentator Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), and what there is is of the decidedly half-hearted variety--it feels as if the screenwriters knew that they had to include something along those lines into the proceedings but didn't really have their hearts in it. Instead, the plot just turns into the usual mush of surprise revelations, shoot-outs and a finale in which all the important parties gather together on the roof of a skyscraper for a final showdown. If there is a surprise to be had, it is in that there is a lot more hugging on display than one might ordinarily expect to witness in a Robocop film. Bear in mind, I do not object to this "Robocop" for not being as smartly conceived and executed as the original--few action movies could legitimately make that claim. What I am objecting to is that it has not been smartly conceived and executed entirely on its own terms.

As I noted, the film has a lot of good actors in it--beyond those already cited, there are also appearances from the likes of Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Of them, the best performances are the ones from Keaton, whose sly turn as the epitome of corporate sleaze serves as just another reminder that he is one of the most reliable, if oddly underutilized, American actors working today, and Oldman, who is always fun to watch when he is in his scenery-chewing mode. I also liked Jackie Earle Haley's turn as Omnicorp's military advisor even though his character becomes increasingly one-dimensional as things progress. On the other hand, the gifted actress Cornish is utterly wasted in a role that just asks her to look either worried or determined and nothing else, Jackson delves further into self-parody with another blowhard turn and most of the others turn up just long enough for viewers to wonder why they are there in the first place.

The biggest letdown, alas, is Kinnaman, who seems to have stressed the robo aspect of his character to the detriment of everything else. Granted, Peter Weller has never been the most emotional of performers but he managed to bring a real sense of humanity into his few pre-cyborg moments so that when he was suddenly blown away ten minutes into the film, it had a real impact and allowed audiences to still feel for him even when they could seen little of his actual person for the rest of the film beyond his chin. The problem with Kinnaman is that he is pretty much a robot right from the get-go and as a result, that sense of loss is no longer there and with that gone, the eventual return of his humanity also fails to make much of an impact as well.

"Robocop" is nowhere near the wholesale disaster that many expected it to be--making his American directorial debut, Jose Padiha (who made the nifty "Elite Squad" a couple of years ago), keeps things humming along and even shows a little sense of humor with one sequence that literally acknowledges that what we are watching is little more than a video game. However, just because it isn't as bad as it could have been in no way means that it is as good as it could have been. Ironically, for a film that is designed to celebrate the triumph of innate humanity over technology, "Robocop" has little in the way of heart or brains underneath its own hi-tech surface. It may be better than the other Robocop sequels but is hardly a software patch on the original. That film will continue to be seen, studied and admired for decades to come because its achievements transcend the technical limitations of its time while this one will soon be as quickly forgotten as that "Total Recall" remake that you already barely remember. It may not be the worst remake of an Eighties film opening this week but it is certainly the most disappointing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23987&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/12/14 12:38:26
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User Comments

3/28/16 Aj wales Plodding dull remake with no style. Actors look bored. No zip in this. 2 stars
3/10/15 dftpizza Not bad 4 stars
8/16/14 reptilesni Emo-cop. 1rst Robocop was programmed with a floppy disc & a VHS tape, this took an hour 1 stars
5/31/14 Meep Rather boring, too controlled, low aesthetic 2 stars
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  12-Feb-2014 (PG-13)
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