You’re probably familiar with the old Yogi Berra quote, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Well, if Yogi saw the new Robocop film he’d probably revise that statement as “the future” in this film is pretty much the same as it was envisioned in 1987 – just not as much fun to watch.
Fans of the original Robocop (directed by Paul Verhoeven with Peter Weller playing the cyborg cop) know it is one of the wittiest science fiction and socially satirical – not to mention notoriously bloody and violent – films ever made. That’s a tall order to match and I don’t think anyone thought it was really possible to top the first movie, and given that monumental task it doesn’t seem like the new remake even tried.
To be fair, Brazilian Director Jose Padilha was reported to have many of his ideas for the new Robocop short circuited by the film studio, so who knows what he would have been able to pull off had he been given full control of his movie. Nevertheless, the end result, by itself, is an interesting and decent enough movie, but when compared to the original it falls flat on its face.
In this film, Joel Kinnaman plays Detective Alex Murphy/RoboCop, and the relatively unknown actor reminded me of Vin Diesel if Diesel was skinnier and had hair (something about Kinnaman’s accent and the way he carries himself.)
When Murphy suffers extreme injuries after an explosion, set up by corrupt cops and a weapons-trafficking crime lord, he undergoes a cybernetic transformation that replaces almost his entire body. It’s an experimental operation funded by OmniCorp and its CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), and facilitated by OmniCorp scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman).
OmniCorp supplies robotic weapons to overseas’ war zones, but they are anxious to capture the U.S. market as well. Murphy /Robocop is used as a promotional opportunity to sway public opinion that is against replacing law enforcement with mindless drones; and OmniCorp manipulates Murphy’s brain, at first allowing him to have free will, but then eliminating his ability to make human decisions in order to make him more efficient.
The politics are all played out on the television show, “The Novak Element,” hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), who is like a maniacally conservative Bill O’Reilly, but with more street-smarts. The talk of drones and the jabs at nutty “news” anchors and their hand-manipulated screen graphics is all fun and currently topical, but the satire just didn’t seem to have the same edge as the original film. Maybe it’s all too close to home to be funny anymore.
Murphy grapples with regaining his humanity while cleaning up crime in the future Detroit and trying to solve his own murder. Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from Watchmen) does a wonderful job as Rick Mattox, the OmniCorp trainer who resents the humanization of the company’s robots and does everything he can to make Robocop’s “life” difficult.
The overall ensemble cast, which also includes Jay Baruchel as OmniCorp’s marketing man, is very good given the lackluster script redo (written by Joshua Zetumer and based on the excellent original screenplay by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner) that they are dealing with.
The special effects are good, but nothing impressive by today’s standards; although there is a very well done and intense climatic fight between Murphy and the ED-209 Enforcement Droids. One of the other big battle sequences though takes place almost entirely in the dark and is pretty lame (like they did it that way to save money.)
Robocop also has a surprisingly fun old-school soundtrack, with The Clash’s “I Fought the Law” over the end credits being a stroke of genius. The ending is certainly set-up for a sequel, but I can see this going to a television series more than an ongoing film franchise. The trouble is that this concept has been driven into the ground (see Deathlok, Rom, the first Robocop, Almost Human, and even Judge Dredd – to name a few) and this latest rendition adds nothing new to the genre.
You can do worse than checking out this new film, but you can also do better by just watching the original Paul Verhoeven movie. If ever there was a remake that was unnecessary, this “updated”Robocop is it.