Release Date: Feb. 12, 2014
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rejoice long-suffering residents of Old Detroit—RoboCop’s back on the streets to serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. This, though, is not your father’s RoboCop. Gone is the clunky silver metal suit that encased Peter Weller’s resurrected Detective Alex Murphy in 1987’s RoboCop, director Paul Verhoeven’s biting satire on crime prevention and corporate politics. In director José Padilha’s straight-shooting RoboCop remake, the future of law enforcement comes in a shiny black package that’s complete with all the technological upgrades that $2 billion can buy. Not that what remains of this Alex Murphy—who is now played by The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman—has much control over the weapons in his possession. Assembled by Gary Oldman’s OmniCorp scientist, the 21st-century RoboCop is essentially operated by remote control when required to takedown the bad guys, with drugs keeping Murphy’s emotions in check. Whereas Weller’s Murphy was more machine than man, Kinnaman’s Murphy is a man trapped inside a machine. This fundamental difference between the Murphys allows Padilha to craft a sleek cautionary tale about the 21st-century technology that holds us prisoner and controls our everyday lives. This RoboCop is more body horror than it predecessor, with Padilha questioning our willingness to allow the gadgets we own to literally and metaphorically become an extension of ourselves. Bearing this in mind, it’s unfair to compare the performances of Weller and Kinnaman. Weller was intentionally flat for much of RoboCop until that fateful moment when he rediscovers his humanity. Kinnaman boils with emotion until OmniCorp shuts him down. It’s only when Murphy rebels against the notion of being a product, one that’s built to dispense American justice, that the true crimes in RoboCop are committed. To this end, Padilha follows the template created by Verhoeven. In one corner, there are the bad guys responsible for all but killing Murphy. In the other corner, there are the OmniCorp suits who want to erase what makes Murphy human in order to persuade the American public to allow robots to patrol the nation’s crime-infested streets, just as they do in such war-torn hotspots as Tehran. As OmniCorp’s CEO, Michael Keaton’s isn’t just a soulless businessman who puts profits before people. He believes in his vision of the future of law enforcement, so much so that he’s willing to sacrifice the life of one man for thousands of others. Padilha, though, doesn’t use satire to hold corporations accountable for their unethical behavior. He doesn’t go for laughs unless it’s to cut to the slanted newscasts host by Samuel L. Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly-ish TV political pundit. It’s the same device Padilha used in his last narrative feature, the 2010 Brazilian crime thriller Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, to ridicule tough-on-crime social conservatives. While Jackson’s downright hysterical, his presence isn’t needed. The mocking tone of Jackson’s reports don’t reflect the seriousness with which Padilha approaches all other aspects of RoboCop. It’s a needless distraction that unnecessarily sets up sides against the use of extreme force against the criminal force. Then again, it’s the only time RoboCop reveals any personality. Padilha approaches RoboCop with all the respect deserving of one of the classic action films of the 1980s. But he inadvertently strips away most of the colorful elements that made RoboCop so fun and engaging, from the social satire to the wisecracking villains we loved to hate. Sorry, there isn’t a bad guy on the scale of Clarence J. Boddicker to be found in Padilha’s RoboCop. Still, Padilha gives us a RoboCop to root for and believe in. He underlines the first half of RoboCop, which focuses on Murphy’s transformation, with intelligence and empathy. The second half is a pure adrenaline rush. There’s plenty of violence, and the body count appears to be significantly higher than the 1987 original. The blood and gore, though, is paradoxically kept to a minimum in order to obtain a PG-13 rating. Anyone who’s seen Padilha’s Elite Squad films knows the man is not afraid to let the streets run red with blood. He just does it in less flippant fashion than Verhoeven. The rating aside, there’s nothing in thisRoboCop that suggests Padilha did not make the remake he wanted to make. This upgraded RoboCop won’t make us forgot the 1987 model. Not by a longshot. But as far as a RoboCop remake goes, Padilha’s level of commitment ensures this is a vast improvement over the two lacking sequels to Verhoeven’s undeniable masterpiece.
Aired: Feb. 13, 2014
Web site: http://www.robocop.com/