RoboCop (2014) – Review

2 Stars

The self-important and over-long reboot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi hit is a big letdown. It starts promisingly with a satirical news program showcasing drone technology being applied as a military ground force in Tehran. A group of martyrs attacks the robot army in an attempt to gain attention from the news crew broadcasting live from the hot-zone. This title sequence is so captivating and realistic it feels like it could have escaped from the hands of Paul Greengrass or Neill Blomkamp. Unfortunately it’s all down-hill from there on, as the story takes familiar elements and bits of dialogue while recycling them into an on the nose diatribe about drone warfare and the consequences of taking responsibility out of human hands and putting faith into machines.

Detroit Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is on the case of a criminal mastermind who has police in his pocket and the city scared of his murderous wrath. Betrayed by his own men, Murphy is mortally wounded in a car-bomb explosion outside his residence. Turns out the rogue cop is the perfect fit for a special operation that turns him into RoboCop. Omnicorp CEO Richard Sellers (Michael Keaton) is intent on using the ‘robot solider’ technology being employed abroad as an alternative to a living police force roaming the streets of Detroit. In stark opposition to Sellers ambitious plan is a conservative congressman, who rallies behind ‘The Dryfuss Act’, a law stating that humans must be behind life or death decision in the civilian sector.

Looking for a way to circumvent the law, Sellers employees OmniCorp’s top scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), to create a beatcop combining human and machine elements, but relatable enough to be “sold” to the American public. Running concurrent to these corporate political agendas is a seemingly endless series of scenes that alternate between RoboCop training and acting hot/cold to his (for all purposes) widowed wife and orphaned child.

This movie features an exceptionally talented cast who all turn in strong performances. Joel Kinnaman, lean and lanky dons the suit, his intense scowl and jaw line are necessary requirements for the role. Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are nicely counter-balanced, the battle between commerce and ideology is amplified by Keaton’s trademark manic energy against Oldman’s reserved thoughtful and remorseful doctor/creator.

RoboCop is snazzy looking with a few action beats that really scores, but the human element dealing with the effects on Murphy’s wife and son stop the film cold. I applaud the filmmaker for attempting to reach for a deeper level than the surface value of the property would suggest, but it falls flat too often and the villain is more an afterthought than a memorable foe. All the elements are present to have produced a rollicking good-time at the movies. Paul Verhoeven infused a satirical edge with hard violence to craft a film that was groundbreaking in it’s tonal shifts and radical in ideas, namely a striking police force, corporations owning law-enforcement a internal and physical struggle of man vs. machine.

I could fill this whole column with a compare and contrast article between the original and this reboot, but alas the day doesn’t permit such dalliances. I will point out the mistake made in the scripting; by giving Murphy sensitivity and then turning him un-apathetic towards his family, makes the character an overly conflicted bore. Verhoeven’s film treated RoboCop/Murphy like a Frankenstein monster, banished from his wife who considered his metal resurrection an abomination.

Robocop is a deadly serious affair, lacking wit or a sense of humor, and neutered to meet the requirements of a studio mandated PG-13 rating. On the plus side Basil Poledouris’ thunderous theme music is recycled in the new score. This isn’t a terrible film, just a terrible missed opportunity.

Director: José Padilha
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton

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