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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

RECENT WATCHES: RoboCop (2014)

During the last decade, seemingly every beloved eighties property was getting rebooted, remade, or at least a brand new sequel. In this rush by studios to exploit any recognizable I.P. they might have, there was no chance that “RoboCop” was going to remain untouched. A remake was first banded about in 2005. The project really started to move forward in 2008. Darren Afronosky was briefly attached to this new “RoboCop,” one of several superhero-themed projects the art house favorite would pick up and then quickly drop. Eventually, the director's chair would be occupied by Brazilian action specialist Jose Padilha. Fans had their fangs out for 2014's “RoboCop.” It was quickly dismissed as another overly slick repackaging of a beloved, gritty classic. Audiences ignore it. A few years later, does this new “RoboCop” deserve a second look?

In the near future, the super-corporation OmniCorp has great success producing robots for overseas military use. The machines are very effective but a law makes it illegal for drones to operate in America. OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars thinks of a work-around. What if they put a person inside a robot? After cop Alex Murphy is blown up by a car bomb, OmniCorp gets his wife to sign over his body. Murphy is rebuilt as RoboCop, a cyborg designed to fight crime. Yet Alex maintains his humanity. Soon, struggles arise between Murphy's desire to live a normal life, his need to solve his own murder and OmniCorps' hope for a super successful RoboCop.

The original “RoboCop” was about Alex Murphy being turned into a machine and regaining his humanity. Padilha's remake has practically the opposite idea in mind. 2014's “RoboCop” is about a man loosing his humanity. When this Alex Murphy wakes up as a cyborg, he still has his personality. He tries to maintain a relationship with his wife and son. He begs for the sweet release of death. However, this human element runs counter to the corporate objective. Thus, Murphy's free will is slowly stripped away until he only cares about fighting crime. This doesn't make as much sense to me as the original's concept. But at least it's something different. Padilha's “RoboCop” has its own ideas and objectives. It's not just a meaningless retread of the original.

In fact, the “RoboCop” remake is even somewhat insightful at times. Paul Verhoeven's satire of Reagan's America is traded out for something more contemporary. This “RoboCop” takes place in a world where corporations manipulate politics. OmniCorps wants to sell their kill-bots in America so they can make more money. The entire plot is motivated by corporate greed, RoboCop existing as a means to a billion dollar ends. A very Bill O'Reilly-like television pundit is paid to spew the corporation's message. Meanwhile, there's public debate over whether or not machines can be trusted to protect the innocent and uphold the law. This speaks to America in the 21st century, where drones fly the skies, corporations want to privatize basic public needs, and news networks' agendas oppose the truth.

Sadly, everything that's interesting about 2014's “RoboCop” goes out the window halfway through. At this point, “RoboCop” becomes an uninspired modern action movie. Murphy overcomes his programming and pursues his murderers. He uncovers a police corruption plot, which doesn't go anywhere. He chases after the crime boss that set him up, a seemingly important character that is disposed of without much fanfare. The last third is a blur of overly CGI'd action. Padilha's Brazilian films have been praised for their action but his work here is uninspiring. An Infrared shoot-out is hard to follow. The showdown with three ED-209s is weightless, CGI mayhem. Weirdly, the film reels back the chaos at the very end. Its climax is a totally limp stand-off which ends in the most underwhelming way possible.

Like many modern day, would-be blockbusters, “RoboCop” loads its supporting cast with familiar faces. Look at some of these names. Samuel L. Jackson is effectively shout-y as the O'Reilly stand-in, especially at the end when he unleashes his trademark profanity. Gary Oldman is suitably empathetic as the scientist who oversees RoboCop's programming. Jay Baruchel is amusingly weaselly as OmniCorp's marketing executive. Jackie Earle Haley works well as the former military expert who attempts to train RoboCop, an unlikable asshole. Michael Keaton doesn't ham it up as the main bad guy. Instead, he plays the role as feckless corporate douche bag. All these big names can't make up for Joel Kinnaman, the meat-headed, jocko void of charisma inside the RoboCop suit.

That suit is honestly one of the problems I have with the film. As to be expected, this “RoboCop” is nowhere near as interesting to look at as the original. Initially, the new RoboCop design doesn't look that different from the original. It's a fairly stream-lined modern version of the classic suit. That is until they paint the guy black. The remake tries to pass this off as a joke but it can't disguise what a boring design the modern RoboCop is. For another example of the remake's uninspired aesthetic, look at the updated ED-209. This ED is Jeep brown without the personality of the original. The remake mocks the “Transformers” movies which is funny, since its ED-209 looks like he'd fit right in with the Bayformers.

Many die hard “RoboCop” fans hated the remake. Which is an instinct I relate to. Yet the remake doesn't boil my blood. You can actually see the bones of an interesting film in here. The way Padilha's remake updates the original's satire actually makes it truer to Verhoeven's vision than most of the sequels. But, ultimately, those intriguing elements are sacrificed for the kind of boring theatrics people accuse the whole movie of being. The result is a film that is halfway sort of interesting and is halfway totally boring. Which is something “RoboCop” should never be. [6/10]

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