Some palpable ideas, but it’s still inferior story-wise and doesn’t have the demented filmmaking skill of the original. Robocop starts out with a strong Samuel L. Jackson prologue (he plays a right-wing news corp commentator who pops up in intervals throughout), but it’s followed by a consecutive number of clunky scenes. Early on, I was wondering why Joel Kinnaman, who plays the Detroit cop who becomes Robocop, adopted an Eminem goes-to-the-gutter accent? Abbie Cornish, as his wife, is equally dim-witted (her perception of society belongs in the 1950’s, not the year 2028). You can relish its strong supporting cast though: Gary Oldman as the brilliant and calculating scientist, Michael Keaton as the ruthless OmniCorp CEO, Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel as his smarmy PR underlings, Jackie Earl Haley as a weapons consultant. When these people bring more interest than the main character however, that’s a problem.
Lacking in impression is the futuristic city of Detroit itself. It looks functioning to me, and despite a few drug barons, police enforcement already seems to be on top of peacekeeping. The 1987 rated-R original had a sociologically sick vision of dystopia, an imagined Detroit metropolis that was technologically advanced and yet festered a myriad of social illnesses – that made it subversively funny. The remake does not have a strong sense of satire.
Here’s a remake with a futureworld that doesn’t really need robot enforcement, and yet the arguments of politics insist they need them. Human beings are fallible, corruptible, and so on, the robot advocates say. Keaton’s avaricious CEO needs to keep making his company money, so he is presses on for a paraplegic candidate. Then Alex Murphy, our protagonist, gets blown up in the driveway of his own residence. Papers are signed, and his mutilated body is moved to China – for sequences too long – to transform him into the Half-Man and Half-Machine Robocop.
The screenplay questions the concept of free will, i.e., Does Alex Murphy’s brainwaves summon awareness that during combat or arrest mode, the software takes over and it’s the machine aspects making life-and-death decisions? Since Alex might not know that he is powerless, he is a conscious entity being exploited. Then, in a ruthlessly clever bit, the dopamine levels are diminished in Alex’s brain, and he becomes more humanoid than ever. The consciousness of Alex is in danger of being eradicated permanently, but the interest in solving his own murder lets his mind hold onto something tangible.
I hate to now bring this up, but the action scenes aren’t all that original and the filmmaking isn’t swift or shrewd enough. We get inside the computer helmet of Robocop as he diagnoses a problem, and that’s neat, but take that away and you don’t have much. Robocop rides through a monotonous cityscape, rattles some poor bastard to rat out his colleagues, shows up at a warehouse or garbage heap to shoot down some uninteresting bad guys, and so on.
Every time the film cut away to Oldman having a crisis of conscious, or Keaton drudging up new evil corporate ideas, I was momentarily engaged. But I give the film a fraction one half star less in the final grade for not addressing the monetary compensation issue of the Murphy family. There are several dumb gaps in logic, but that one bugged me most.
108 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / REVOLUTIONARY MINDS / LATE NIGHT ACTION
Film Cousins: “Robocop” (1987); “Robocop 2” (1990); “Robocop 3” (1993); “Total Recall” (2012).