Movie Review ~ RoboCop (2014)

robocop_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Director: José Padilha

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Even uglier than the recent trend of Hollywood eating its own by remaking many a film barely 30 years old is the nasty critical backlash lobbed at these remakes.  While some of this ire is warranted (I’m looking at you 2012’s Total Recall) there seems to be efforts that become collateral damage,  wrongly tossing commendable efforts like José Padilha’s update to RoboCop into the junkbin.

Listen, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop is a not-minor classic but one that I wasn’t overly attached to, so treating it like a precious property isn’t going to allow anyone to really enjoy the 2014 remake.  The thing that made the ’87 sci-fi action film so razor sharp was its cynicism toward violence and the media, a concept reaching its peak in the final years of the advent of the “me” generation.  The digs taken at the alarming change in what was considered entertainment came at the right time and right place. 

That same approach wouldn’t have worked for this update;  after all we live in a time when stardom can be achieved for doing nothing so Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer wisely jettison that impossible to match angle for something admittedly less special and memorable…but one that provides the kind of entertainment that is engaging, if altogether fleeting.

The structure of this RoboCop is largely the same: in the not-too-distant future robotic technology has become more advanced and popular opinion is that it’s still too early to embrace the benefits of a robot protected society.  The head of tech giant OmniCorp (Michael Keaton, Gung Ho!, a welcome presence) decides that the public needs to be shown the light and wonders what would happen if there was a beating heart in one of his robot warriors.

That’s where Detroit cop Alex Murphy comes in.  As played by Joel Kinnaman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), he has that same blandness that worked for previous star Peter Weller…though Kinnaman has significantly more “face” time in this film allowing us to see the man inside the machine.  Injured in the line of duty while investigating an arms dealer and police corruption, he’s saved by OminiCorp technology and becomes their RoboCop.

I’m not sure if adding more heart to the film is what audiences expected or wanted but if the cynicism was lost in the reboot there had to be something to fill the gaps.  This means Murphy’s wife (a non-presence in the first film) has more to do…even if Abbie Cornish winds up delivering most of her lines like she’s shivering in sub zero temperatures.  Where the previous film introduced the refurbished Murphy as an emotionless drone that gradually remembers his humanity, the new Murphy wakes up with the memories of his past, only to see them next to erased by corporate bottom-lining that ordered a machine without scruples.

Rounding out the quite well acted ensemble of performers are a kindly Dr. Frankenstein-like character played with dimension by Gary Oldman (Lawless) and a blowhard political reporter etched out by Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained) on a CGI-graphic heavy set that looks remarkably like the one Jackson shoots his credit card commercials on.  Hints at the dark comedy of the original film come through Jackson’s character and he’s given enough free rein to be over the top while eschewing winking knowingness.

Had the film cannibalized the original loyal fans would have gone crazy (and rightly so)…and I find it a bit unfair critics have knocked the film for not going that direction…maybe it was a lose-lose situation for all involved with updating this story.  For me, I was able to keep the tonally different film from ’87 at enough of a distance and take this revamp for ’14 for what it is – handsomely rendered entertainment that’s serviceable at its worst and involving at its best.

Down From the Shelf ~ RoboCop (1987)

1

robocop
The Facts
:

Synopsis: In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories.

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Released in the summer of 1987 on the same day as Jaws: The Revenge and a re-issue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RoboCop was a unique package that landed at the right time amongst the larger studio fare being offered.  Keep in mind that this was also the summer of The Untouchables, Predator, The Witches of Eastwick, Spaceballs, and Dirty Dancing (are you nostalgic yet?) and if you comb through the other films released that year you’d be able to tell why Paul Verhoeven’s dark comedy sci-fi was able to make its way to the fifteenth highest grossing picture of the year.

Yeah, I called RoboCop a dark comedy…because there’s ample amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to pop culture and the changing face of news as entertainment.  Peppered in between the story of a cop killed in the line of action reborn as “Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop” are hysterically lampoon-y commercials and the kind of graphic news footage that still wouldn’t be accepted in today’s society.  Casting Entertainment Tonight television personality Leeza Gibbons as a news anchor was a nice touch in riding the line between hard hitting news and the carefully lobbed barbs at the kind of fluff stories Gibbons was accustomed to dishing on.

Comedy aside, its remarkable how ahead of its time the film was.  Though some of the effects don’t play quite as well nowadays, it’s still a very watchable action/sci-fi film thanks to Verhoeven’s gonzo direction and the sleek special effects.make-up from Rob Bottin.  Admittedly, the plot is a bit thin from screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, never really building upon its own original concept.  It feels half-baked and not as fully thought-out as you may remember it being.

Peter Weller makes for a nice leading man even though the top half of his face is obscured for much of the middle half of the film.  A last minute replacement to the cast, Nancy Allen would get more to do in future RoboCop installments (none of which are half as good as this) so here she’s regulated to a Girl Friday role more than anything.  As far as 80’s villains go, you couldn’t ask for smarmier candidates than Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, both are scene-stealing wonders as executives that stretch their roles into high camp.

Originally given the dreaded X rating for its copious amounts of gore, the restored film is pretty graphic but given the package it’s delivered in there’s a way to laugh off some of the more squirm inducing moments.  A fun movie to revisit…especially for those of us that remember when the film was first released.

The Silver Bullet ~ RoboCop (2014)

robocop-2013-poster

Synopsis: In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

Release Date:  February 7, 2014

Thoughts: I’m not usually one to get behind remakes of films that were just fine to begin with.  My biggest problem is the more often than not these remakes/reboots do very little to make any strong case that the film needed to be revisited in the first place (case in point…2012’s Total Recall).  Still, I must admit that I was intrigued by the prospect of a re-envisioning 1987’s RoboCop.  Though by no means a classic, it’s still a genre favorite of mine thanks to its clever take on the future of law enforcement and its copious amounts of violence (that originally earned it an X rating before director Paul Verhoeven went back and made some trims).  While the just released trailer is interesting enough to not make me roll my eyes totally out of my head, it’s distressing to hear that the filmmakers are aiming for a PG-13 rating…something that just doesn’t work for this character or the series which was all about a next generation weapon being used to combat decaying violence.  Delayed for release several times doesn’t bode well but February is a long way away…I’m open to seeing where this one goes.