In this winter’s hilarious new rom-com Robocop, we are introduced to Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), the handsome, dashing, and all-around-charming star of the Detroit Police Department. He solves crimes with the power of laughter and strategically placed kittens. Think Patch Adams, but with a 9mm. In a wacky turn of events, Murphy is critically injured through an attempt on his life by a grumpy weapons smuggler, who really just wants to be loved. To save his life, and up their potential revenue, the totally legit and not-shady-at-all company OmniCorp puts what is left of Alex in a new Robo-body to give him a second chance at life. With his new nigh-invulnerable body, arsenal of high tech weaponry, and incredibly efficient targeting system, Alex hits the streets using his newfound abilities to hug the crime out of Detroit. But tackling crime is easy; the real question is if Murphy can win his wife’s heart back.
Oh wait, nevermind, that was just a dream I had last night. Robocop (2014), coming out today, is Hollywood’s latest attempt at milking money out of an established cult sci-fi classic. Reboots and remakes are tough. They inherently have built-in expectations and almost never have any surprising material. They range from pretty terrible (Total Recall, The Invasion, Poseidon, The Day the Earth Stood Still) to better than the original (Dredd, 21 Jump Street, The Fly). If the filmmakers can get a handle on what made the original movie good, and are willing to develop the concept or material in unexpected ways, the film has the potential to be something great. It’s a little disappointing, then, that this newest exploration of the Robocop character turns out to be only a decent movie when it is clear throughout the film that the writers, producers, and director had a good understanding of what made the original Robocop, from 1987, great.
In an effort to keep its MPAA rating down to PG-13, the filmmakers chose to do away with the hyper violence of the original and alter the underlying message of the film from a satirization of Americans’ love for violence to a commentary on America’s need to force itself into the affairs of other nations combined with our simultaneous insistence on hyper security. While the film is not overly subtle in how it conveys its message, it is effectively crafted. However, it just isn’t as entertaining as the original. When I walk into a Robocop movie, I have certain expectations, among them that I will see an unabashedly violent action flick. I think this update really loses something from not showing the bad guys getting blown away. You can’t help but be mesmerized by seeing a guy’s skin melt away after being doused in unmarked toxic chemicals and then literally explode when hit by a van. In the new toned-down version, there are no opportunities to laugh at the absurdity.
Alex Murphy’s home life is welcomingly fleshed out in this update. Abbie Cornish plays a sympathetic wife to Joel Kinnaman's mostly stoic lead. Gary Oldman does well with the underdeveloped lead scientist character he portrays. Michael Keaton doesn’t give his greatest performance, but he doesn’t detract from the film. Director José Padilha took what he learned in his Elite Squad series to craft some well-coordinated action scenes, though they are less frequent than you might expect and not varied enough. The production value is high with some really great CGI and interesting on-screen UI graphics in Murphy’s robo-helmet.
Robocop is more successful than most remakes, but can’t reach the heights of its source material because of its hesitation to own its absurdity. The film’s attempts at satirizing America’s obsession with security are welcome, but don’t connect back to the main story well enough. What we’re left with is a well crafted film that tries to do a lot of things, but can’t quite bring it all together to make a memorable movie experience.