“RoboCop” Movie Review

     My general rule of thumb when considering remade classic films is to recommend anyone interested in the latest version to simply watch the original again.  These remakes vary in quality and range from the horrid remake of “Total Recall” to the satisfying take on the Judge Dredd character in “Dredd”, both of which were released about a month apart in the late summer of 2012.  Director Jose Padilha’s reimagining of “RoboCop” falls somewhere in between the two, but leaves no doubt Paul Verhoeven’s original is still the superior film on a number of levels.  I suppose the current generation in some way craves the whiz bang special effects Padilha uses to their fullest extent in nearly every scene, but it’s Joshua Zetumer’s script which falls short, lacking the slimy characters and witty lines of the first incarnation.

     “RoboCop” is said to take place in 2028, just 14 short years from now, and it never ceases to amaze me how similar the City of Detroit is depicted both in the 1987 film as well as this film when compared to present day Detroit, a city that frequently ranks as the worst city in America.  Strangely, the 2028 version looks significantly more tame than what it looks like even today.  I’m surprised Padilha and his collaborators didn’t invest a bit more in the production design elements of the city streets in order to create an atmosphere that would cry for a law enforcement officer like RoboCop.  You may recall the original’s villain, Clarence Boddicker, who had the city under siege, leaving many of the calls the police encountered with more of a war zone feel than one taking place in modern civilization.  There is no Clarence Boddicker here, in fact the sheer lack of a menacing villain leaves the new film dull and uninspired in most scenes.

     Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman portrays Officer Alex Murphy, who operates primarily as a plain clothes detective and along with his partner, Jack Lewis (Michael Williams) appear to be close to breaking a case involving a high level drug and arms dealer.  Following a series of scenes which establish this, Murphy goes home and we are introduced to his wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), and his son, David (John Ruttan).  The script doesn’t give us much in the way of their relationship aside from a few cardboard cut out scenes that indicate they are a normal family with the exception Clara doesn’t approve of the every changing shift work her husband must endure.  Just like that, Murphy tends to his vehicle alarm in the driveway and the car explodes, critically injuring him.

     The film is framed by several live look ins on the set of a political news show hosted by Pat Novak, played by Samuel L. Jackson with much of the same bravado as he did in “Snakes on a Plane”.  Padilha uses this character to set the stage for what the film is generally and really about.  The drone strikes that make news today is now technologically escalated for the film in the way of fully automated robot drones that are used and deployed in war zones all over the world.  The company that manufactures these robots, OCP, is in need of finding a way to create a product that can be used for law enforcement purposes in the U.S..  This is where Murphy and his current state of health comes in.

     In the original, some of the best scenes came as a result of the tug of war between rival executives and their respective creations.  There is none of that here, as the boardroom at OCP, led by CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), seems to have no animosity with one another and are generally satisfied with following Sellars’ orders and agreeing with his every thought.  With the fact these boardroom scenes occupy a good portion of the running time, I’m surprised Padilha didn’t insist on having an antagonist within.  Since the story lacks a true adversary and the politics within the corporation are boring, all we’re left with is the RoboCop character himself.  Padilha dedicates an enormous amount of time to the development of the cyborg, led by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman).  The struggle Murphy has with his new self before ever actually being deployed is well documented throughout and the decisions made without his knowing reference just how in control he is over his robotic body is always at the forefront of the proceedings.  There’s not a more telling visual depiction of this than when Norton shows Murphy just how much of him is left when the armor is removed, an effect that creates one of the film’s better scenes.

     Aside from the politics of using robot technology stateside, Padilha’s film constantly points out the importance of various marketing decisions by way of both television and social media.  Sellars’ team is constantly feeding him the results of various polls and focus groups, information that ultimately leads to Murphy being deployed in Detroit with a sleeker look, including black armor and a motorcycle “Batman” would likely be proud of.  The main focus of the third act centers around Murphy solving his own attempted murder, but the main baddy responsible isn’t capable of putting up the kind of fight you would expect in a film like this.  This leaves the film’s many action sequences with a dull and run of the mill feeling all the while knowing there is nothing which exceeds the creative R rated violence in the original.  This “RoboCop” plays like a video game a gamer could finish in a day with little or no depth in the way of conflict between the film’s central characters. GRADE: C-