I’d Buy That For A Quarter!
Let’s get right down to brass tacks. RoboCop, the 2014 remake, is not as terrible as you would expect.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but when you attempt to reboot a film that needs no rebooting, expectations are going to be understandably low. The original Paul Verhoeven classic is two shades away from perfect, boasting subtle themes of corporate corruption, sensationalist media and the nature of security with exceptional action and some good ol’ 80’s excess. It’s funny, satirical and completely entertaining. The unnecessary modernization is a bi-polar experience who tries its best to pay homage to the 1987 version with limited yet well intentioned results.
NOTE: I am going to write the majority of this review like I’ve never seen the original film. It’s often unfair to compare reboots to their predecessors, especially when the deck is stacked against them, so I’ll be critiquing the movie on its own merits…for the most part.
The story takes place in near future Detroit where technology company OmniCorp has deployed peace keeping robots in every corner of the globe with the exception of their native USA. The Americans have a law against un-manned law enforcement and in attempt to sway public opinion, CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton), decides to merge man and machine. Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who, after a car bomb nearly kills him, is sent to OmniCorp scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and re-built into a lean, mean, crime fighting machine.
Bucking the meager expectations, the central theme supporting the story is surprisingly sound. The idea of human choice versus mechanized efficiency runs through the movie, providing a bit more bite than one would expect from a late February release. There is also a heightened focus on the struggles of Murphy’s family (Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley). While completely unnecessary, it’s a solid attempt at developing the RoboCop character beyond the metal and visor. Kinnaman, along with the rest of the cast, is serviceably average with the exception of Gary Oldman who swings from wonderfully over the top to genuinely affectionate as only he can.
Unfortunately, best intentions can only get you so far. Execution is key and director Jose Padilha is clearly out of his depth. With its PG-13 upbringing, RoboCop spends much of the run time battling robot drones without any sense of tension or urgency. The fight scenes are a confusing mess of visor vision and frenetic quick cuts, making action tracking next to impossible. While this may be a by-product of modern filmmaking, I suspect it was done to mask the horrendous CGI work. While the robo-drones look decent enough, there are some shockingly bad effects. One scene in particular, where we get to see Murphy “disassembled”, is one of the worst effect jobs I’ve seen in quite some time. Mix it all in with a third act that literally disintegrates in front of your eyes, and you have an unsatisfying hodgepodge of poorly constructed ideas.
Note: I am now going to toss out my previous rule and directly compare this movie to the original. Sorry. I can’t help it!
The new attempt at RoboCop tries its best but comes up painfully short. It’s not an unwatchable movie by any stretch. The family work has some life to it, the performances aren’t awful and the plot has some unexpected substance to it. But it all adds up to why bother when stacked up against the exceptional original. Despite the horribly paced action, miserably hammered in fan service and muddy, overdone plot, it never had a chance, even if it was competently done. If the film was titled “CyberCop” or “RoboDude”, it wouldn’t be any better but at least the shadow of a classic wouldn’t be weighing it down. Better than expected but still weak, RoboCop works as a Saturday afternoon distraction but unless you’re 12 and can’t handle the excessive R rated violence of the original, there’s no reason to see the reboot.
Ready for my Rotten Tomatoes quip? “I’d buy that for a dollar…at the bargain bin of my local Walmart!”
Score: 5 out of 10