Directed by José Padilha.
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, and Michael K. Williams.
Police officer Alex Murphy suffers horrific injuries in an explosion and is rebuilt and part-robot, part-man in a bid to combat growing levels of crime in Detroit. But RoboCop is haunted by his own past and the corruption of the system that has created him.
Hollywood scriptwriting is evidently in such an awful state that executives are merrily remaking action films many of us can remember from the first time around. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: the Total Recall remake was a worthless exercise, while Dredd just about got away with it (primarily because the original was dire). There are so many different Super- and Spider-Men nowadays it’s like one of those episodes of Doctor Who with multiple Doctors that makes you yearn for the simplicity of Midsomer Murders.
The original RoboCop was released in 1987 and did well. Sadly, this new version barely tweaks the original story, removes most of the action sequences, adds emotion in place of explosions and only scrapes by on the back of its stoical cast.
There is corruption within the Detroit police department, and only Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) seem to be holding out for honour and justice. When the pair cross the wrong bad guy, Lewis is shot into hospital and Murphy is car-bombed into the laboratory of brainbox scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). Norton successfully rebuilds him with a huge amount of machinery at the behest of corporate megalomaniac Raymond Sellars, played with twitchy energy by Michael Keaton.
RoboCop, as Murphy is now, of course has a family, but his human side interferes with the job of interfering with criminals and needs to be suppressed, leading to inner turmoil for the man of the hour. This is the film’s central failure – for a huge part of the movie we are asked to empathise with Murphy’s struggle to rationalise his family life, his job and the enormous amount of drugs pumped into him to keep him policing like the efficient machine he mostly is, rather than watching him Cop like a Robo.
The script has it that RoboCop’s trademark visor only comes down when he senses a threat. Given that Murphy is in a lab for much of the film, or with his family, or simply struggling with competing emotions, his visor is up most of the time. This is RoboCop without much RoboCop and the schoolboy in me rages at the injustice.
Kinnaman as Murphy (rather than as RoboCop) does well enough, though his baby-faced features framed in the un-visored costume don’t exactly exude tough law enforcement. Keaton gurns his way through an entertaining performance, Oldman is in noble Commissioner Gordon mode, while Samuel L. Jackson puts in a remarkable turn as foaming, furious Bill O’Reilly-style TV monster Pat Novak. More screen time for Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley as chief henchman of the evil corporation OCP, would have helped the movie. Abbie Cornish as RoboCop’s wife is treated by the script much as you would expect RoboCop’s wife to be, and has little option but to tearfully implore various people for fair treatment throughout.
While the cast hold up their end admirably, the updated script is filled with more holes than a non-robotic Detroit police officer. That city itself is one problem – in 1987 Detroit was doing well, but given the current bankruptcy of Motor City it’s tricky to imagine the world’s most state-of-the-art technology will find its way to Michigan any time in the next century. Similarly, given everything in the updated movie is so fancy and high-tech, are you honestly telling me they can build something that runs and jumps with the grace of Sonny from I, Robot, but they can’t get rid of the bloody hydraulic robot noises it makes? You know, I reckon the crooks might just hear him coming.
The original had a few classic lines, and “Thank you for your co-operation” is lovingly retained here. But why on earth would you replace the tension-building “You have 20 seconds to comply” with the limp “You have two seconds to decide”? I’d wager they could have shaved 18 seconds off somewhere to make it work.
As a treat, watch this movie then immediately return to the 1987 version, to see how crazy and original the previous movie now seems with hindsight. Whatever you do, don’t watch the original and then this, as the blatant cynicism and avarice from studio executives looking to save a few bucks on coming up with original stories could put you off these blasted remakes for good.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★