Raymond Sellars: They want a product with a conscience, something that knows what it feels like to be human.
As a child of the ’80s, I’ve seen it all. Nudity, sex, guts and gore – it was all explicitly shown in the movies of the decade. After all, it was the ’80s, the pinnacle of the “Me” era, wherein excess was paramount. It was also the time where groundbreaking filmmakers could run wild and use their films as revolutionary allegories against Reagan conservatism. Paul Verhoeven was one such filmmaker. His 1987 classic, ROBOCOP, was a brilliant case study in how to satirize the rampant, morally-deficient gluttony and paranoia of the era, while feeding it to the masses with an easy-to-swallow, no-holds-barred action movie. Regulations have since been enforced, however. Such blatant anti-American sentiments, not to mention the graphic carnage often presented in ROBOCOP, are no longer exhibited in mainstream movies. Thus, in order to remount the ROBOCOP franchise, one would assume that a filmmaker would need to cater the cop-turned-fighting droid tale to the current Obama era. One would also assume that said filmmaker would comment on the failures of at least one of his reforms. Unfortunately, there is very little social commentary to be had in this remake. Instead, the audience is given a lifeless Frankenstein story with no intelligence and, worst of all, very little action.
Jose Padilha’s remake initially follows the same premise as the original movie, with good cop, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), investigating a criminal mastermind, in this case, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). After Vallon learns that Murphy and partner, Jack Lewis (the exceptional Michael K. Williams), are scrutinizing his activities, he unleashes his henchmen to murder the pair. Lewis manages to escape with minor bodily injuries, but Murphy’s body is blown to bits in a deadly car bomb. Shortly thereafter, his loving wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is given the option by conglomerate, OmniCorp (led by the morally ambiguous Raymond Sellars, played by Michael Keaton), to use what’s left of her husband to create a half-man, half-robot crime fighting machine. With the compassionate partnership and watchful eye of Doctor Norton (Gary Oldman), Robocop is thus created. There are chinks in the armour, however. Murphy/Robocop yields humane responses in a shoot-em-up test of a hostage situation (one of the movie’s most energizing set-pieces) and Norton is forced to repeatedly tinker with Murphy’s brain in order to remove his compassion and decision-making abilities. This lengthy foray into Frankenstein territory (and what constitutes a human, versus a machine) would have been fascinating to explore, had its execution not been so clunky.
There are several welcome visual nods to the original movie, such as excessive breaking of glass in fight scenes. Past that though, there are unnecessary tweaks to the catchphrases of the original and this script, by first timer, Joshua Zetumer, lacks any focus or originality of its own. Scene-stealing Samuel L. Jackson (playing a variant on the original movie’s news hosts) lets loose with a satirical pro-American rallying cry towards the end of the movie, but unfortunately, this is far too late to even mimic the polemic of the shinier original movie. Quite simply, this ROBOCOP is dull and belongs in the junkyard.