Friday, February 14, 2014

RoboCop (2014) review

In 1987, the science fiction film Robocop was the perfect combination of Director Paul Verhoeven's over the top violence and social commentary on corporate corruption. So I was not enthused with the announcement of a remake. Why? if I may paraphrase the first film, Robocop is product and MGM has got to milk the franchise for more profits.

This new version of Robocop starts out with right-wing TV news host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) doing a story on the use of American military robots and drones to subdue Iran. While the machines are successful in killing, they're without remorse or compassion. Fearful of that, Congress has passed the Dreyfuss Act which prevents robots from being used in law enforcement applications in the United States. That's a problem for OmniCorp which makes the robots since they can't make money in the American market. CEO of OmniCorp Raymond Sellars (Micheal Keaton)comes up with a plan. Put a human policeman in the robot. He enlists the corporation's top robotic prosthesis expert, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to create the cyborg.

Meanwhile in Detroit, police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is investigating weapons hitting the streets. During an undercover operation, he's exposed and things go bad when his partner Lewis (Micheal K. Williams) gets hurt. Things get hot when he gets information of the main arms dealer. Corrupt cops place a bomb on his car and when he investigates the malfunctioning auto alarm, it detonates. Murphy is critically injured. Murphy's loving wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish) is forced into allowing OmniCorp fit him with robotics. He becomes RoboCop.

There are some good themes in this version of RoboCop. The use of robots to fight wars. Losing one's humanity to machines. But all of this is lost in the execution. There are many problems with this movie. First, let's start out with Joshua Zeturner's screenplay. He makes the mistake of writing a movie about how a man becomes a robot. As a person, Murphy is cold like the movie. Add to that, he digresses with needless training scenes of RoboCop. The original movie had RoboCop hit the Detroit streets after his transformation. The training scenes sap the energy from the themes and the human story of Murphy. There's also a disconnect between between the street crime and the corporate crime. One of the main themes of the original RoboCop was that there was no difference between your street crook and the white collar ones.

Director Jose Padiha cannot handle action scenes. First, let me harp on the over use of hand-held camera shots. Not needed in action sequences. It's a cheap way to to add excitement to an action scene. But there's usually no need to do that. Instead Padiha's use of the hand-held camera adds confusion. For example, I had to think whether it was Murphy's partner who got hit in firefight. And other action scenes were noise and confusion. That's because they're badly set up and Padiha overuses RoboCop's computer HUD displays. It's a mess. The music to this movie is unmemorable. Composer Pedro Bromfman's score is musical wallpaper and emotionless. He does use Basil Poledoouris's heroic them from the original but not enough. It's hardly there. Maybe because there are no scenes of RoboCop doing heroic things. As a result, I didn't care about RoboCop.

The one good thing about this movie is the acting. I don't think Joel Kinnaman will go down in history as the next Klinton Spilsbury. (The Legend of the Lone Ranger) He does well with what he's given. The same could be said about everybody in the cast. I'm impressed again by Jennifer Ehle (Contagion)who plays a cold and heartless corporate advisor to Sellars. One thing. Please stop having Samuel L. Jackson drop the "F" bomb. It's now parody. Yeah, it's funny but it's also distracting.

This remake of RoboCop is not a bad movie but is merely a competent one. But that's hardly a compliment. Stick with the original. This modern version is as cold as it is here in Cincinnati. The grade is B Minus.

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