RoboCop remake lacks the original's twisted soul
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, and Gary Oldman. Rated PG. Now playing
If you're gonna remake Paul Verhoeven's satirically twisted sci-fi/action classic RoboCop, you'd better damn well bring your "A" game. Apparently, director José Padilha didn't get that memo, because—despite his best efforts—his version winds up closer to C+ territory.
The movie starts off well, depicting a U.S. military intervention in 2028 titled Operation Freedom Tehran that mocks George W. Bush's misguided attempt to bring democracy to Iraq. Via live feed on The Novak Element, a Fox News-type program hosted by reactionary blowhard Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), we're shown U.S. forces deploying OmniCorp's heavily armed "drones" (aka robots) to keep the peace on the streets of Iran.
But when suicide bombers do their thing the operation ends in tragedy and destruction and the network quickly cuts away from the truth—just like in real life.
Novak lays out the movie's core theme by ending his aborted segment asking: "What could be more important than keeping American people safe?" Then we're immersed in the daily challenges facing honest Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who is destined to become the film's titular cyborg—and the almighty OmniCorp's poster boy for robotic law enforcement in America—when he's targeted for death by corrupt colleagues and blowed up real good.
For devotees of the 1987 original it's hard to picture anyone but Peter Weller donning the Robosuit. For one thing, Weller's otherwordly countenance—that unusual look that also served him well in the offbeat '80s gem The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension—is not something that Kinnaman shares. His regular-Joe appearance doesn't sit right in the Robosuit.
What the new RoboCop misses in the flesh, though, it makes up for in machinery. The seamless mechanics of the Robosuit are quite amazing; right up there with Iron Man's self-assembling armour.
But all the eye-popping gadgetry in the world can't make up for the fact that RoboCop is rife with filler and drags on way too long. By the third or fourth installment of The Novak Element that joke has worn thin, and having Jackson spout that motherf***in' word he's famous for—just because he can—seems childish.
Michael Keaton is okay as greed-driven OmniCorp CEO Raymond Stellars, but he doesn't emanate corporate sliminess the way Ronny Cox did. And without the over-the-top scumball quotient brought by Kurtwood Smith as unforgettable baddie Clarence "bitches leave" Boddicker, there's not nearly as much to cheer for—and against—as you'd hope.
Also, by aiming for a more commercially viable PG rating the redo had to rein in all of the shocking gore that helped make the original so fine in the first place.
Sorry, but that's where I gotta draw the line.