- Movie Rating -

RoboCop (2014)

| February 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

The remake of Robocop is a colossal miscalculation.  I’m all for remakes that change up the original material, but this movie does it in such a way as to drain all the juice out of the material until we are left with a dull, boring, lifeless bag of sand.  Let’s put it this way, that last thing we need from Robocop is pathos.

Paul Verhoven’s 1987 classic was a brutally funny satire on the 21st century, a future run by corrupt corporations and roving street gangs that kill at will.  It was painted in broad strokes and presented, appropriately, as a living breathing comic book, an ultraviolent black comedy in which you laughed at just how over-the-top and silly the whole thing was.  The creators of that film understood that the idea of reviving a dead police officer and refitting him with cybernetics to make him tougher was a ridiculous concept, and they kept their film at that level.

The trouble with the remake is that it treats this material with sobering seriousness and attempts to give the film an emotional payoff.  Think about that: They want an emotional payoff from a story about a cybernetic cop!  There’s a scene where RoboCop comes home and his son tells him that “I taped all the Red Wings games so we could watch them together.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The story you know: Alex Murphy (played this time by Swedish actor Joel Kinneman) is a good cop in a bad city who does his best to remove the city’s latest criminal element.  In doing so, he is killed in the line of duty. Instead of letting him die with dignity, Ray Sellars (Michael Keaton), the head of the multinational Omnicorp, decides to use him as a guinea pig for an experiment in robotic law enforcement.  Alex was badly injured in an explosion (in the original he was shot to pieces) and all that remains are his head, brain, lungs, and for some reason, his right hand – not an arm – just a hand!  The rest of his body is made of metal. Sellars gives the job to a brilliant robotics engineer named Dennett Norton played by Gary Oldman in a heartfelt performance that the movie doesn’t really call for.

When we see Murphy, his only flesh is the face that sticks out of that helmet. We know that he can never be all human anymore.  We understand that having a normal home life would be nearly impossible, but the screenwriters painfully attempts to build a relationship between Murphy and his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and their son Daniel (John Paul Ruttan).  He’s 95% metal, so having an intimate bond is not a possibility anymore.  That makes the attempts to connect with this family not only painful to watch, but also kind of pointless.  This may be the only time I might have welcomed a deus ex machina.

Aside from the mishandled emotional stuff, RoboCop tries to address Alex’s dual identity. Where does the brain stop and the machine begin? Yes, he can take down criminals with the greatest of ease, but that’s also the problem. He’s so good at shooting criminals and not taking damage that it renders all of the action scenes boring and repetitive. The drama – outside of the family stuff – is suppose to come from Alex’s struggle to keep what is left of his humanity even as the nasties at OmniCorp determine to rend it away from him. But that becomes the fulcrum of the movie, and it’s not much of a fulcrum.  What is he fighting against?  We are told that Detroit is a cesspool of urban decay but from our perspective the city looks thriving and beautiful.

The original frequently interrupted the action with silly commercials and news broadcasts. Here it’s all whittled down to an O’Reilly Factor-style news show called The Novak Element, hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) who reports on the progress of Robocop and the senate hearings to shut down the program that created him. Jackson’s presence in the movie is welcomed, but it seems to be in the wrong movie. He speaks and comments in a way that the other characters in the movie do not making you wonder if his scenes were tacked on long after the movie was completed.  His dialogue is such a mangled mess that I’m not 100% sure what side he’s even on.  Even his last lines are a head-scratcher.

Look, a remake of Robocop is a bad idea anyway. The original was fine. The second film was underrated. The third film was unnecessary.  Like many remakes is an overcooked, under-thought piece of commercial filmmaking put together by a committee who couldn’t be bothered to figure out what made the original work. The feels less like a movie and more like an annuity in action.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.