** (out of 5)
February 12, 2014
Joel Kinnaman as ALEX MURPHY
Gary Oldman as DR. DENNETT NORTON
Michael Keaton as RAYMOND SELLARS
Abbie Cornish as CLARA MURPHY
Jackie Earle Haley as RICK MATTOX
Michael K. Williams as JACK LEWIS
Jennifer Ehle as LIZ KLINE
Jay Baruchel as TOM POPE
Marianne Jean-Baptiste as CHIEF KAREN DEAN
Samuel L. Jackson as PAT NOVAK
Studio: Columbia Pictures/MGM
Directed by: José Padilha
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m not one to dismiss remakes on principle. In fact, there are some great remakes out there. Even some that aren’t great still bring a new angle or element to the film. Sure, there are plenty of lousy remakes done, but I always hope for the best when I see them.
Paul Verhoeven’s original “RoboCop” was a fantastic film, which I remember seeing in the theaters during its release. (I actually took a date to the movie, and my giddy glee expressed throughout the film during the most violent moment had quite the negative impact on the date. In fact, when I busted out laughing during the “toxic waste moment,” I’m pretty sure our relationship was over. And I didn’t care.)
I wasn’t against Hollywood remaking “RoboCop.” In fact, with more than 25 years passing since the original’s release – as well as one mediocre sequel, a really terrible sequel, an even more terrible TV show and an inexplicable Saturday morning cartoon spin-off in its wake – there was definitely places for the story to go.
The core of the story is the same in this new movie. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is a detective who is severely injured in the line of duty. A technology company uses his still-living remains to construct a cybernetic super cop. The end goal is to improve law enforcement and put the company’s product on the street for a healthy profit. However, when Murphy starts looking into his own murder and uncover secrets about his new form, these plans start to fall apart.
I don’t want to become that guy who does nothing but compare this remake to the original film, but it seems necessary in this context. After all, there’s a lot of pop culture baggage that comes with the “RoboCop” brand, but more importantly, Verhoeven’s original film can be held up to show everything that was done right with the movie.
There are some diversions from the original structure. In particular, Murphy always knows his history, and his identity is not hidden. That’s an interesting choice, which dovetails into what could be very tense moments with his wife and child. However, these opportunities are squandered with poorly written characters and a completely useless child actor. Abbie Cornish plays Clara Murphy, and while her character has the most potential, she is nothing more than a two-dimensional archetype of the grieving wife.
Murphy ends up not going through any self-discovery because he already knows who he is. In fact, most of his emotions are “Twilight” angst with him moping around about his lost normal life. It also doesn’t help that Kinnaman is a needlessly dour actor who can’t seem to decide if he’s a badass or a sensitive guy.
The biggest thing missing from this movie is the biting satire and social commentary that was contained in the first film. Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” deconstructed current events and policies of corporate greed, the privatization of public duties, the lowest-common-denominator influence of the media and the callous acceptance of violence in our society.
None of that is in this movie, and with more than 25 years of current events, there was plenty of commentary that could have been made. There’s a taste of it that comes from Samuel L. Jackson’s version of Bill O’Reilly, but those scenes only bookend the movie and serve as narration.
However, the two biggest problems with this film is they forgot to make it an action movie (with only a few sequences that are either too short or too safe, depicting training exercises rather than a brilliant montage of RoboCop fighting crime). They also forgot to actually put a villain in the film.
The counterpart to Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker is a guy I honestly can’t remember the name of nor recognized the actor. His role is so neutered, it’s a wonder why they put him in the movie in the first place. Michael Keaton plays the counterpart to Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones, but he just strolls through the movie rather affably and barely acts like a traditional bad guy.
The film has a terrific supporting cast – which includes Jackson, Keaton, Gary Oldman and Jackie Earle Haley – but they do not mesh well together, and they ultimately spend more time in board rooms chatting about the technology behind RoboCop than actually affecting the story.
In the end, this new “RoboCop” plays like a primer for what not to do when you remake a classic.