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The True Tin Man, 'RoboCop' Looks Sleek, Has No Heart


Joel Kinnaman in RoboCop. (Photo by MGM | Columbia)

Long story short: RoboCop has neither the horror nor the fun of the original. It's another edition of safe sci-fi, a troubling trend.

RoboCop will remind you of: RoboCop, Total Recall (2012), Elysium, Ender's Game, Dredd, District 9

Review: RoboCop is the latest modern sci-fi
remake that is, frustratingly, effects-driven, zero heartbeat film making. It's a safe movie that looks amazing but will not move you, a problem indicative of most film rehashes these days. Established properties have built in audiences which usually means big money but, more often than not, also means artists are hamstrung. You don't take artistic license with something the public owns. You play it safe, take the out at first and bore us all to death. 

Director José Padilha, known for his realistic action sequences (Elite Squad and its sequel), has made a vastly different RoboCop than the original, but one that takes no risks. With the exception of Samuel L. Jackson's character, Padilha doesn't dabble in satire like Paul Verhoeven once did. He goes for realism, but the script, by Joshua Zetumer, isn't strong enough to create effective drama. Blame the lack of a real villain, a shocking revelation considering the absolute wickedness of the original's bad guys. Where have you gone Clarence Boddicker? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you!

Verhoeven's RoboCop wove satire and horror in equal measure. It was that combination that helped it secure an R-rating (it was rated X eleven times for violence). And it is that combination that makes it one of the most-beloved sci-fi films of all-time. The extreme violence is important because it's the fire in which RoboCop is forged. He's a product of a city that's become hell on Earth and has turned to science to develop a solution. Sure, there's some corporate greed in there too. But in the remake, RoboCop is only the product of corporate greed. Where's the danger in that?

RoboCop 2014 presents a Blomkampian future where robots are used overseas as security. ED-209s walk the streets of Tehran, but in the United States, the Dreyfuss Act speaks for the American people and the people don't want no stinking robots. Americans are "robo-phobic" according to human cess pool Pat Novak (Jackson), a Fox News-ish urchin who seems to have the only show on TV. Novak calls for robots in America and OCP CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) concurs. He tasks his lead scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) and his marketing team (Jennfer Ehle, Jay Baruchel) with developing a robot/human hybrid that the public will accept and that will net him hundreds of billions of dollars. 

In Detroit, Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams) attempt to take down a drug lord despite corruption on the force. Murphy is ratted out and ambushed by a car bomb, leaving him without limbs and burned to a cinder. He's discovered by OCP and Sellars presents Murphy's wife (Abbie Cornish) with the opportunity for "a second chance." She tentatively agrees and soon Kinnaman is in costume as RoboCop. 

Faced with the truth for the first time, Murphy freaks out and takes off like Forrest Gump in hilarious full gallop. More hilarity ensues when Norton shows the cyborg his true self. Murphy is put in a front of a mirror and mechanically deconstructed like Iron Man in reverse. He watches machines remove his legs, his torso, his arms and chest until there's nothing left but a head, pulsating lungs, and, strangely, one hand. This is what it looks like (no spoiler). It's the one risky scene in this otherwise pedestrian movie, which makes it totally out of place.

Of course, the hero embraces his new superpowers soon enough and starts kicking everyone's ass in first-person shooter mode. The rest of the film is a series of action sequences, the best being a showdown with not one, but three ED-209s. Unlike the original though, you never worry for RoboCop. There's no bad guy that's threatening enough to challenge him. Sellars is the Dick Jones of this remake and the worst thing he does is lie to Murphy and his wife. 

I do give RoboCop credit for attempting to address some larger ideas even if they are clumsily executed. Like the original, the remake is very much about the humanity of an inhuman being. Murphy has a family he loves but RoboCop can be turned off with the flick of a switch. He can also be controlled, via dopamine levels, and turned into a emotionless machine. Where things get interesting is how RoboCop surprises Dr. Norton by raising his dopamine levels organically by discovering his emotions (put in overdrive by his decision to solve his own attempted murder). Oldman shines in these scenes, the only actor who gives the story any sense of gravity.

One character refers to RoboCop as the "Tin Man" which is a clever metaphor for the film itself. Could it also be applied to Padilha? Maybe, since he took a beloved film and made it shiny with new technology but forgot to include some major elements. But what's a director to do with a no-win situation? In actuality, Padilha probably made the best film he could given the inherent limitations of the project. And that, of course, is the reason these remakes should never happen.

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