Movie Review: RoboCop
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
There is a moment in the new, pointless “RoboCop” where Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a good detective whose body has been reduced to smoking flesh by a bomb, sees what little is left of his physical person; he is virtually a head in a jar.
A look of sheer panic comes over Murphy’s face, but the emotion might as well be Kinnaman’s — it is an expression that says, “I have made a huge mistake.” And indeed he has.
There are few movies less demanding of a remake than Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original “RoboCop,” which starred Peter Weller (whose career never completely recovered from the iconic part).
With Dallas subbing in for a dystopian Detroit (which must have given Houston and Austin residents a chuckle) and packed with pitch-black humor, gonzo satire and sadistic violence, “RoboCop” remains nasty and funny, startling and relevant.
Over and over, the remake, on the other hand, moves right up to the edge of saying something powerful and pulls back at the last second, taking refuge in sub-formulaic dialogue and video-game action.
Directed by Brazil’s José Padilha (responsible for the often excellent “Elite Squad” crime films set in Rio de Janeiro), “RoboCop” opens smashingly well. A conservative talk show host, Samuel L. Jackson, reports on Omnicorp’s robot soldiers in Tehran, “pacifying” a populace that would have once required American soldiers.
Jackson, arguing that such technology should be legal in the States, marvels at how the citizens are wisely cooperating; they look miserable and terrified. Some men decide to make a statement. There are consequences. It’s a dynamic, bold sequence; perhaps this ill-advised movie will work after all.
Back in the U.S., Omnicorp president Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton, blowing a chance to play Sellars as an aging, law-and-order-obsessed Bruce Wayne) decides only by putting a man in the machine will he get the laws he needs to operate on America soil.
He enlists scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to develop the technology. Jay Baruchel shows up as the Guy From Marketing With the Really Creepy Beard. Omnicorp’s field commander (Jackie Earle Haley, the only one who seems to have the correct tone) loathes the idea of introducing a human element.
Completely coincidentally (no, really), family man Murph and his partner Alex (Michael K. Williams) are on the trail of a crime boss. Corrupt cops make short work of their investigation, and suddenly Murphy is the perfect candidate to be made into a cyborg.
Where the original went for broke, “RoboCop” pulls its punches, even down to the armor. In the original, the skin of Alex Murphy’s face has been stretched, grotesquely, around the robot head; here, Kinnaman’s handsome mug remains intact. Needless plot machinations sully everyone’s motivation, as if the movie is struggling to find a point. Is he more human than robot? Does he care about his family? Do other cops resent him? Is this about fascism or the privatization of the security state or what? All of it is juggled, none of it sticks.
The original “RoboCop” made its mark by being far smarter than it first seemed. The reboot does the opposite, acting like it’s far smarter than it actually is.