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New Review: Robocop (2014)
Director: José Padilha
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchol, Jackie Earl Haley, Patrick Garrow, Samuel L. Jackson, John Paul Rutton, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
While it was far from a perfect movie, the original 1987 Robocop was not only bitingly satirical and audaciously violent, but it, like its title protagonist, managed to keep hold of its humanity throughout (It wasn't just an exercise in mindless violence and special-effects, which is exactly what those two wretched sequels were). This was, in large part, due to the surprisingly well-written relationship between Robocop and his female partner Anne Lewis. Their scenes together brought some heart to the material, and the fact that both Peter Weller and Nancy Allen were so well cast in their roles made it all the more engaging.
In contrast, this 2014 version of Robocop is a mess. Directed by José Padilha, the action scenes are uninspired and chaotically directed, and the screenplay features a number of plot twists you can see coming well in advance. Like in the original movie, Robocop has a human partner, but instead of Anne Lewis, it's Jack Lewis played by Michael K. Williams (I guess the filmmakers couldn't afford to have a strong female character in the movie), who is shot and injured earlier in the film, and is given next to nothing to do after that. Robo's wife (Abbie Cornish) and son (John Paul Rutton) are given more screen time here than before, but they remain frustratingly one-dimensional and, as played by the performers, devoid of personality.
The movie takes place in the near future, and opens up with an obnoxious TV show personality named Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) expressing his frustration that nearly every country in the world is under the protection of the Omnicorp law enforcement robots except for the United States. The reason for this is that Omnicorp receives congressional opposition because while humans might feel something if a child is endangered, a robot wouldn't. What is the movie's stance on this? I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I think we're suppose to see Omnicorp in a negative light because its owner, billionaire Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), is such a greedy and sleazy son of a hamster.
Recognizing potential revenue loss if he doesn't puts his machines out in the US, Sellars hatches up a plan to make a machine that's governed by the heart and the mind of a human being. You know, something the people could really get behind. His choice for the project is an honorable Detroit cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who was critically injured in a car bombing after a couple of crooked cops finger him for execution to a notorious criminal (Patrick Garrow). With his wife's consent, Sellars goes ahead with the project, and three months later, Robocop is made.
The movie spends an inordinate amount of time showing Alex undergoing extensive training in his new robotic body, while the doctors in the lab (led by Gary Oldman's sympathetic Dr. Dennett Norton) keep making adjustments to his suit and his dopamine levels to make him easier to control. When he's finally let out on the streets, and it takes almost an hour for that to happen, we're plunged into a series of action scenes so poorly lit, photographed, and edited that we can barely tell what's happening half of the time. The only set-piece that has any flair to it comes during the climax, where Robocop fights a room full of androids, but even that scene has a rushed-through feel about it.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the movie is in the casting of Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman as the title character. The man remains a blank slate from the first frame to the last. Even when he returns home to investigate the scene of the car bombing, he expresses very little emotion, in spite of the fact that lab readings show that he's feeling quite a bit of it (Remember how good Weller was when, as Robo, he returned to his home in the original movie?). The villains of the piece are especially disappointing. Kurtwood Smith, who played the villainous Boddicker in the original, was ruthless, unforgiving, and just a memorable villain. The villains here are so blandly written that I can't even remember their names, and I just got through watching the movie.
The best performances are turned in by the side characters. Michael Keaton is at his sleazy best as the vile Raymond Sellars, while Gary Oldman is given the only three-dimensional role in the film, and he brings unquestionable nuance and depth to it. Jackie Earl Haley is gloriously hammy as the ultra macho Rich Mattox, Jay Baruchol is amusing as Sellars's wimpy assistant, and Samuel L. Jackson is....well, Samuel L. Jackson. He turns in the sort of performance that you've come to expect from him.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about this new Robocop is that, apart from one amusing instance where the song If I Only Had a Heart is used, it takes itself oh so seriously. There's very little humor here, and that's a shame, because one of the things that made the first movie so much fun was its sense of humor. Sure, the special-effects are certainly very good here, but what good are they if you can't care about what's happening around them?
Rated PG-13 for lots of action and violence, some kissing, profanity, drug content
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
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Robocop (2014) - 0.5/4 Stars - Glumly self-serious, harmfully sanitized to a PG-13 rating, and absent of any detectable personality at all.
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