PLOT:After an attempt on his life, a critically-wounded Detroit policeman, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), is revived by Omnicorp, a multi-national conglomerate, that turns him into a $2.7 billion cyborg cop. Once he's back on the streets of Detroit, Murphy tries to solve his own slaying, while his distraught wife (Abbie Cornish) and son try to figure out whether this new half-man/half-machine is still the husband and father they once knew.
REVIEW:Remaking a successful film is always tricky business, especially if the original happens to be a movie that's almost universally beloved by fans worldwide. That's certainly the case with Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP. Despite being followed by one mediocre and one absolutely atrocious sequel, along with a Canadian made TV show that looked like it was made on a shoestring budget, the original film's legacy has not diminished over the years. The name recognition alone makes this a potentially massive worldwide hit, so it's no wonder Sony decided to reboot the franchise, with the last full-on feature having been made twenty years ago.
Like another Verhoeven remake, TOTAL RECALL, this ROBOCOP is a far cry from the darkly comic 1987 original. Made with an audience in mind that wasn't even born when the first film came out, this PG-13 reboot attempts (at times) to be a radical reinvention, and the script by Joshua Zetumer tries to deviate from the original formula as much as possible. In this version, OCP is no longer a heartless corporation that's privatized the police force. Rather, they're a robotics firm with deep ties to the U.S government, that aspires to have their robot drones essentially take over law enforcement in America, essentially turning the country into a police state, which is a notion that's oddly embraced throughout the film by a (presumably) Republican pundit played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose Glenn Beck-style editorials are spliced throughout the film. This is the closest this new ROBOCOP comes to embracing the satiric edge of the original film.
You have to give the filmmakers credit for trying to depart from the original formula, but here's the thing. Verhoeven's film did a lot of things, such as have OCP (at least try) to erase Murphy's memory and hide his identity, that made sense. Here, we're supposed to believe that Murphy's wife would somehow sign over her husband to become the robotic slave of this corporation, under the delusion that somehow she'll be getting her husband back. This is one of the many things that doesn't make sense in the movie, and the result is a film that often comes off as incredibly dumb, made worse by the fact that it's actually trying be smart, but constantly failing.
This is a shame, as it starts off pretty well with a dynamic action sequence set in the Middle East, where Omnicorp's robots (including the snazzy new ED-209's) are attacked by insurgents, resulting in a chaotic shootout. Director Jose Padilha recaptures a lot of the urgency and flair for action he demonstrated in his ELITE SQUAD films, but once the action moves to Detroit it just comes off like a lifeless rehash of the original. Even when it tries to depart from the formula (often disastrously as noted above) it keeps bombarding the audience with nods to the original, including the sampling of Basil Poledouris' iconic theme, and many of the famous one-liners being recycled throughout.
The one area this ROBOCOP reboot really distinguishes itself is the cast, with it being populated exclusively by well-regarded actors. Even the bit parts are played by played by “names” although many of them, especially Jennifer Ehle, are wasted in nothing roles. Joel Kinnaman uses some of the grit he showed on THE KILLING as the human Alex Murphy, and when he's in the suit he's fine even if the pathos of original star Peter Weller's (underrated) performance is mostly absent. The exception to this is a surprisingly gruesome scene where Murphy's shown the extent of his wounds by Gary Oldman, who plays his nice-guy creator. Unlike Miguel Ferrer's coke-inhaling yuppie of the original, Oldman here is a brilliant scientist, and while his material is thin he tries to give the part some weight. That said, Oldman feels wasted in the role, especially with the absence of a strong villain. He could have given the film some much-needed menace (nobody here's even remotely on-par with Kurtwood Smith or Ronny Cox- who made such memorable baddies).
The most interesting member of the cast is Michael Keaton, in his first big role in a while, as the charismatic Omnicorp CEO. Keaton's as intense as always, and hasn't missed a beat since his heyday, but the part is badly underwritten, especially in the ludicrous final act. Jackie Earle Haley fares better as Omnicorp's weapons specialist, although again, he starts off as one thing and winds up as something else without any believable motivation being provided by the script. Meanwhile, Abbie Cornish disappears for huge chunks of the movie as Murphy's distraught wife, while Michael K. Williams tries his best as the now male Lewis, but is saddled with some incredibly bad lines. When asked if he's doing a good cop/bad cop routine, he actually says “no, this is good cop, Robocop!” Oh boy.
That the material is so weak is a real shame as while it could probably never top Verhoeven's original, Padilha's film has it's moments, specifically during the action scenes that suggest that with a better script this might have been an OK reboot. As it is, it's not an all-out disaster, thanks to the opening, and one really solid shootout near the middle of the film that demonstrates the new (and controversial) Robo-suit and it's accessories in all their glory. While Padilha does seem to love his shaky-cam (which is becoming a really tiresome way of shooting action films) it can't be denied the man knows how to stage an exciting set-piece. As such, the film only ever works as mindless action, which may be fine for some viewers (teens may really like it) but will leave others cold. If you're willing to turn your brain off and totally forget Verhoven's original, you may have an OK time watching this as at least it's more imaginative than the TOTAL RECALL reboot. But, if you go in expecting any kind of substance, you'll likely walk away disappointed. This is certainly an improvement over ROBOCOP 3, but in the end it's just another rehash. Even younger action fans would be well-advised just to give the original a try.
|Extra Tidbit:||As bad as ROBOCOP 3 was, it was nowhere near as bad as the TV show, which had a kid sidekick and a f**king ghost! Here's a reminder.|