Monday, February 17, 2014

Robotic Re-Imagining Cops Out

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

ROBOCOP (Dir. José Padilha, 2014)

I’ve blogged before that sometimes the only worthwhile thing about a remake is that it reminds you of how good the original was. That’s definitely the case with this.

Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP, which I first saw and loved as a teenager in the summer of 1987, was a hard R-rated sci-fi action satire that was as full of laughs as it was thrills. José Padilha’s new remake/re-imagining/re-whatever the hell you call it is only full of itself. It’s as streamlined and mechanical as the Robocop suit itself (now in shiny black!), and it only loosely resembles its way superior source material.

What it’s most lacking is a sense of fun. This is immediately apparent in what first-time screenwriter Joshua Zetumer came up with as a framing device involving segments of Samuel L. Jackson as a loud conservative cable-TV host who debates the ethics of using robots for law enforcement and asks his viewers “Why is America so robophobic?” 

With his obvious talking points and Al Sharpton-esque hair piece, Jackson’s character isn’t even developed enough to carry a 4-minute Saturday Night Live sketch – his only funny moment comes when one of his trademark blurts of “motherfucker” is bleeped.

Then there’s Gary Oldman as Robocop’s compassionate creator, a scientist for OmniCorp (OCP, Omni Consumer Products in the original), who works for a cold conniving Michael Keaton as CEO. Like Jackson, these are great actors, but they’re just talking cogs that take on tons of exposition that we have to wade through before our metallic hero even leaves the lab.

At least Jackie Earle Haley as Robocop’s trainer and Jay Baruchel as OmniCorp’s Head of Marketing have a few almost amusing moments, but still nothing worth quoting.

The virtually unknown Joel Kinnaman (well, I didn’t know who he is) is the new Robocop, who, like Peter Weller in the original, starts off as Detroit Police Officer Alex Murphy who gets killed by sinister forces and begins life anew as the cyborg property of a massive corporation.

Kinnaman is a likable enough presence, but his brand of angst is wrong for the character, but then so is this entire setup which has the unfortunate notion to make the slain cop’s wife (Abbie Cornish) a bigger part of the story. In the original, Weller’s wife and son thought he was dead and moved on, but here Cornish and 12-year old son (John Paul Rutton ) stick around hoping to get some quality time with what’s left (only part of his head, heart, lungs and one hand) of nearly dead dad.

These attempts at giving ROBOCOP more of an emotional element are strained and un-moving, the solving his own murder mystery thread goes down such a routine avenue, and the noisy and badly shot shoot ‘em up scenes contain no excitement.

Except for its seamless CGI and solid cinematography by Lula Carvalho (CITY OF GOD), ROBOCOP is a big formulaic fail on many levels, but if it gets some kid or kids to seek out the original then at least it’s succeeded in something.

It inspired me to re-watch Verhoeven’s ‘80s classic to see if it still held up, and it indeed does – from Weller’s sharply tough performance to choice turns by Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Miguel Ferrer, and especially Kurtwood Smith (best known as the surly dad on That ‘70s Show) as the vicious villain, to the KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE-style commercial parodies throughout. It remains a smart snarky spin on the action movie tropes of the Reagan era with a bit of Troma-type gore splattered throughout. Sure, it was schlock, but it was top notch schlock.

Padilha’s safe PG-13 version has no guts or glory, yet still wants to be taken seriously with all its talk of robot ethics and commentary on commerce. But it simply just doesn’t add up to anything even worth buying for a dollar.

More later...

1 comment:

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