The new RoboCop is a lot like the old RoboCop in that a lot of people are shot and killed. Whereas the 1987 film conducted its business with a sly, dark sense of humor and an ear for social commentary, this 2014 remake (or is it reboot?) plays everything with a poker face. Its idea of commentary is an O’Reilly Factor-style show (hosted by a spirited Samuel L. Jackson) where “debate” happens. Aside from a few throwaway jokes, there’s no humor to be found and the result is a generic, factory-sealed action film that is actually more interesting before Alex Murphy makes his transformation to RoboCop.
The core story is very similar to the original. The time is 2028 and Detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is critically injured by a car bomb set off in his drive way. He had been investigating possible police corruption within his department, and his only hope for a “normal” life is in the hands of OmniCorp. They’re a multinational conglomerate that has created a line of all-robot police operatives, thus removing the need for our flesh and blood to be in danger in the line of duty. The product hasn’t tested well with Americans, who still prefer a human with a conscience making the decision to pull the trigger. Omnicorp sees an opening in Murphy’s case: take the remains of the man and create and part robot, part human version of their product.
For being billed as a non-stop action extravaganza, Joshua Zetumer’s script is very talky and it takes nearly an hour for Murphy’s conversion to RoboCop to take place. There is much grousing about the morality and stakes of doing such a thing, but it’s all thrown to the gutter once the action kicks in. Brazilian director José Padilha, making his Hollywood debut, shoots it all with maximum shaky cam and rapid-fire edits. A shootout that takes place in a pitch-black warehouse could have been from a different film for all I know. Most troubling is the lack of anything resembling an imposing villain. Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker was one mean bastard in the original. Michael Keaton plays Omnicorp’s Raymond Sellars as more of an energetic opportunist than a true threat. Gary Oldman does what he can with the under-cooked role of the scientist behind RoboCop’s technology, but spends most of the film in various degrees of yelling. Joel Kinnaman, as RoboCop, turns in a nice performance, ranging from a confident police officer and loving family man to heartless robot as well as one can.
Remaking RoboCop was never going to be an easy task, and if you’re going to take the name of the original you’re going to get compared. It continues to amaze that so many remakes and reboots abandon what made their original counterparts so memorable (the edgy satire and black humor, in this case) and instead play everything so deadly serious. Manufacturing wholesale violence on the screen is not difficult. Creatively presenting it and putting meaning behind it is. That’s where the film falls critically short, and why it will forever be referenced in the shadow of its source.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.
Theatrical Release: February 12, 2014
Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer. Based upon the 1987 screenplay by Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner.
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton