Tuesday, February 18, 2014

RoboCop (2014)

**1/2 out of ****

There is no need for a remake of RoboCop. None. Actually, any attempt to remake a film that was directed by Paul Verhoven, is like obliviously mistaking a really funny joke for a story that needs to be told better.

The 1987 film was made at a time when an action sci-fi about a half-man/half-cop was perfect B-movie fodder for a studio to sell. Yet it surprised critics when it turned out to be a harsh satire of the eighties. It touched on issues such as the decline of the American auto industry, bad sitcoms, corporate greed cheapening human life and widespread gun violence between police and criminals alike.

Verhoven -and screenwriters Edward Newmeyer and Michael Miner shared a sick sense of humor that welcomed an absurd amount of graphic violence for comic effect. This movie has its fans. I’m one of them. I also know that this remake was made for the same reason as the new About Last Night or even the Lego movie: It’s a recognizable label and it makes marketing easy for the studio.

As expected, the incredibly unnecessary remake of RoboCop is a bad remake, but, to my surprise, it’s not that bad a movie. I know that when I watch a movie after midnight – on top of a long, hard day – and it manages to keep me engaged, it must be doing something right. Conceptually, it’s far from polished but it’s rather well-directed with beautiful special effects and cinematography.

Director José Padilha (Elite Squad) and first-time screenwriter, Joshua Zetumer create a movie with the same basic plot as the original while just about everything else in the story is thankfully different.

After failed attempts to push through the use of robotic police, a major military and law enforcement contractor company resurrect a slain policeman in a robotic body to reassure skeptics that they can feel safe with a human element involved. In this version, the hero, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is lucid with full human consciousness and memories of his past life when he awakes in his new form. He begins to lose his identity as modifications to compete with drones suppress his humanity.

Michael Keaton is unconventionally cast as the OmniCorp CEO with a team of morally bankrupt businesspeople, including Jay Baruchel and Jennifer Ehle. Gary Oldman plays the empathizing scientist behind the RoboCop program, helping Murphy in his new situation. Jackie Earle Haley is a slimy weapons consultant.  

On top of these new characters, this remake explores the other side of Murphy’s life that took a backseat in the original. Abbie Cornish plays his wife, constantly trying to summon her husband back home as he becomes more machine than man. Michael K. Williams plays a male version of Lewis, Murphy’s partner.

Just like your average sci-fi action film, this one introduces thought-provoking concepts and barely sees them through. The last act of the movie feels as automated as Murphy has become. However, most of the action in this movie, PG-13 as it is, manages to entertain.

The real saving grace of the film takes a hint from the news anchors of the first movie. The contemporary spin is Samuel L. Jackson as a Fox News-style ranting pundit, featured in the beginning middle and end. This is funny and subversive material, mocking news propaganda, which supports American imperialism. It’s also an answer to this mostly humorless movie.

I can’t guarantee that this film will be of any satisfaction to someone who loves the original RoboCop. It uses all the right manipulative tactics, such as the use of the original movie’s theme when the title comes up. There are also subtle references to a few of the many great one-liners that fans should expect. Still, the bottom line is that this movie would work better if it didn’t claim to be RoboCop at all. But no studio will buy that for a dollar.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

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