The best thing to be said about the RoboCop remake is that at least it’s not a complete disaster. Before the film even started we were slinging puns like “RoboCop-out” and “RoboFlop.” Poor director José Padilha has been burdened with bringing an update of a beloved ’80s character back to relevance. Considering the amount of trouble the production went through to get RoboCop version 2014 to the big screen, it’s a miracle the film is even watchable. But when the high point this edition is that they incorporated Basil Poledouris’s theme from the 1987 film — including throwback title cards —plenty of wrinkles still needed ironing out.
In this edition of RoboCop we get introduced to Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) hosting “The Novak Element,” focused on the politics surrounding the use of mechanized crime control to keep the peace in Tehran — suicide bombers take out the EM 208s (robotic officers) and the ED 209s — showing that they are useful in keeping American soldiers alive. In Washington D.C., politicians are debating the machines’ effectiveness since they can’t feel. With no sense of right or wrong they could potentially harm the innocent along with the bad guys.
At OmniCorp, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) takes to his marketing team to give the people what they want: a machine that can feel. Meanwhile, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is injured in an explosion on orders from Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), a cop killer kept clean by crooked cops. Sellars sees his chance to put a man in a machine and uses Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to convince Alex’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to sign the necessary paperwork. Now, the city of Detroit may have the cop of the future in their midst, that is if they can keep him from suffering all the major setbacks of new technology. Meanwhile, Alex must come to terms with what he’s become, and potentially solve his own murder.
For a good while, Padilha’s new RoboCop stands pretty well on its own. There’s a rather unsettling scene where Alex asks to be shown what’s left of his body, but along with the rest of Alex, a much needed human element is also missing. Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer keeps everything as cold and mechanical as any of the robots, and you never really care about Alex or his relationship with his wife and son. There’s a very particular scene where everything really starts to fall apart. When they finally download the police database into Alex’s brain, he has a seizure and they dope him up causing the technological side to take over leaving him in an almost zombie-like state. Everything feels the same from there on out.
The action is far sparser than you’d expect, with Padilha relying on the overused shaky-cam, and a particular fire fight sequence is so visually obnoxious I had to look away a few times. It’s so bright and flashy you can’t tell what’s going on, so you won’t miss anything anyway. There are no surprises here, and all RoboCop offers is a slicker, PG-13 rated, watered down version of a classic that didn’t need rebooting to begin with. I watched the original over the weekend and it holds up extremely well. Also, Fox’s Almost Human is doing the cyborg stuff way better here on a weekly basis that we can watch for free. Unfortunately, that show is bound for cancellation whereas RoboCop will probably make a decent dent at the box office.
Considering this RoboCop is padded out to be more like an origin story, it’s a shame that it becomes far less fun once the action finally kicks in. The only person who ever feels like he’s having a good time is Jackson, and he’s only in a handful of scenes and is hell bent on overacting as much as possible — Mr. Glass hair-style and all. We didn’t come to hear Rush Limbaugh diatribes, we came for the action. You’re better off staying home and watching the newly released remastered Blu-ray, which is only priced at $7.99 on Amazon, costing less than most matinee prices. It’s just as nice and shiny now too, only enforcing how clear it is that the original RoboCop will always be the definitive.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures