It is really becoming a challenge to review a new film that has retooled another film that is so dear to my heart. I remember seeing Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987) when I was in second grade. And, like The Terminator before it, it mesmerized me with its gratuitous violence, strange editorial structure, and the absolute insane audacity of its villain. The film was unlike any other action picture I had ever seen and as I grew up, its satirical message would become more and more clear. Corporations are indeed evil and if we let them take over all facets of our society (including the police force), life as we know it just won’t be the same.
For a film that is now at the cusp of its third decade, it contains more wit, life and irony than its updated counterpart, which instead substitutes parody for familial dramatics.
Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is one of future Detroit’s most non-corruptible policemen. He and his partner go undercover and stumble upon an illegal arms trade that all points to Antoine Vallon, one of the city’s most notorious criminals. Vallon happens to be tied to all sorts of characters in high places, so Murphy is put on a kill list. So some corrupt cops plant a bomb in his car that, by all intents and purposes, should have ended his life.
Only he wakes up as a machine – aptly named RoboCop – run and financed by OmniCorp. This company makes huge profits by building military grade robots to third-world countries in order to maintain peace. The United States, however, doesn’t want robots running the show on their own soil, as they have no moral compass. The CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), enlists Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) to figure out a way to merge the world of human and cyborg in one creation. Murphy is their meal ticket.
Unlike the original, where Murphy’s family were told he died in the line of duty, Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) gives permission to OmniCorp to use her husband however they see fit, just as long as she and her son can still have a relationship with him. Only the corporation doesn’t quite fulfill that promise due to the fact that they keep coming up with ways to lower Murphy’s emotions to keep him more in line with an actual cyborg.
It is around here that the film starts to fall apart.
Director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) doesn’t seem to know how to properly juggle all the elements the film introduces in an even fashion. The brief moments we get of satire are buried in the coils of a family drama that simply isn’t that interesting. What would life be like for a wife and son if their husband and father turned into a robotic piece of corporate property? The answer your mind is creating for that question is arguably more stimulating.
This RoboCop has some decent enough set-pieces (when they aren’t buried behind a cloud of computer-generated confusion) but lacks the satirical nuts and bolts that held its source material so tightly together. The most we can get here of lampooning is out of a news show sprinkled throughout the narrative. The Novak Effect stars
Laurence Fishburne Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, a Bill O’Reilly-esque character, pushing forward an enterprising pro-robotic message. His performance is terribly underwhelming, spending much of his screen time reading from a teleprompter instead of acting like he is reading from a teleprompter.
As the original Murphy (Peter Weller) was brutally torn apart by shotguns before being pieced back together, this new RoboCop performs the same amount of brutality towards its source material. Only when they put it back together, they forgot to include any of its strong points. It’s just another forgettable remake that might even tarnish the original RoboCop’s legacy to those who weren’t even aware it existed.
But hey, at least it’s not RoboCop 3.