Friday, February 28, 2014

ROBOCOP (2014)

Written by Joshua Zetumer

Directed by José Padilha

Where & When: MJR Cinemas, Westland, MI.  February 18, 2014  9:30 PM

Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch provocateur, thrilled and horrified audiences in equal measure with his images of raw (and at times, campy) sexuality and grisly violence. The director began his career in his homeland with intricate low-budget films that earned Verhoeven plenty of critical acclaim. Hollywood soon came calling and with big money behind him, Verhoeven continued making his style of cinema but on a much larger scale. That partnership lead to the now classics, "Total Recall", "Basic Instinct", "Starship Troopers" and the infamous "Showgirls" but the film that launched his international ascent was "Robocop" back in 1987. Filled with his signature black humor, gruesome, bloody carnage and social commentary, this sci-fi cop drama was unlike anything previously seen before. Made with minimum investment and delivering maximum returns, "Robocop" went on to spawn two movie sequels, TV shows and video games.

Now the time appears ripe to reboot the popular franchise with another rising film maker put in place to revive the character. José Padilha co-wrote and directed the Brazilian crime drama, "Elite Squad" which won the Golden Bear Award at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival and became one of the highest grossing films in his home country. While the director offers a slick and modern Robocop to combat crime in the Motor City, this is simply a watered-down version. The brutal satire of the original is missed and after a nice start with some clever new plot ideas, this film eventually blends in to the generic formula of the current comic-book films.

The Detroit-based Omnicorp has found great financial success with their robotic police army preventing crime and protecting civilians throughout the world except the good ol' U.S. of A. Blocked by a Congressional bill due to the robots lack of human reasoning, the company's CEO (Michael Keaton) Raymond Sellars, not satisfied with just millions, is determined to enter the U.S. market. Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) has been experimenting with using robotics to replace missing limbs of soldiers at Omnicorp and Sellars pressures him to go one step further to appease the concerns of American public. An injured police officer is sought for the experiment. After Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly killed by a car bomb from orders of a crime lord he's been investigating, the detective proves to be the perfect candidate. Murphy's distraught wife (Abbie Cornish) reluctantly approves the surgery and a new form of police officer is born.

Murphy struggles to adjust to his new mechanical body and attempts to reconnect with his wife and young son. Right before the unveiling of Robocop to the press, Murphy's emotions overwhelm him to the point of a major breakdown. Dr. Norton is forced to adjust Robocop to suppress his emotional state, which leaves him more robot than man, and communication is cut off from his family.

Robocop proves to be a tremendous success fighting lawlessness in the city with public opinion beginning to sway. After learning of his son's difficulties without his father, Robocop overrides his programming. Murphy returns to making his own decisions, starting with solving the crime that nearly killed him.

Although Mr. Kinnaman, best known for his work on the cable show, "The Killing", fills out the cyborg suit nicely, the actor is fairly bland and buried under the weight of his classy, highly-gifted supporting cast which includes Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel and most impressive, Samuel L. Jackson. Sporting Republican hair and no patience for liberal ideas regarding law enforcement, he plays a right-wing talk show host offering running commentary throughout which is a highlight of the film.

"Robocop" is certainly entertaining but it's just another sad reminder of what current film makers fail to realize when attempting to remake a beloved film. First, it's not necessary but if you insist, remember that all of the current visual tricks will not help if you leave out everything that made the original potent and essential.