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Robo Calling – A review of RoboCop
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Jose Padilha
Stars: Joel Kinneman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Haley
Summary: Fans of the original will miss the tongue-in-cheek humor but this film has strong merits in it’s own right. RoboCop is back for a new generation of fans.
In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven brought RoboCop to life for the big screen with a darkly comedic view of the future in Detroit. Peter Weller was the man behind the mask, but the real star of the movie was the armored suit wreaking havoc on the bad guys. That was coupled with sharp tongue-in-cheek sarcastic humor prevalent throughout the film.
Now along comes, for lack of a better description, a remake of the concept, but not necessarily the film as we knew it. The tongue-in-cheekiness is gone, replaced with an even darker and more sinister brand of humor.
Joel Kinneman steps into the role of brooding cop Alex Murphy who suffers severe injuries when he and his partner take on a notorious mobster who deals in illegal arms shipments smuggled into the motor city.
Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) reluctantly agrees to let the big wigs at Omnicorp, a global conglomerate world famous for developing urban pacification armament, turn her critically injured husband into a mechanical guinea pig that will hopefully appeal to robophobic Americans who won’t allow these tools on U.S. soil.
It’s interesting that both incarnations of this film were set in Detroit, a city that is notorious for high crime and poverty, thanks to decades of liberal/progressive leadership that served to destroy the city’s infrastructure.
In the original movie, law enforcement is contracted out to Omnicorp since the city is bankrupt and can’t afford to pay its police officers while crime runs rampant in the streets.
In this version, the underworld is more subtle, but still controls the city. Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton), the head of Omnicorp, may have his own sinister agenda for the beleaguered municipality.
Keaton is perfectly cast as the smarmy executive who can come off as charming when necessary, yet starkly darker when it becomes evident that he isn’t everything he appears to be on the surface.
Gary Oldman, who rarely plays good guys, here is cast as the benevolent scientist who works with the disabled to fit them with responsive prosthetics to help them re-establish their lives. It’s his team that could spell the future for Alex and his family, not to mention Detroit.
Kinneman is no Peter Weller, but he manages to carry off the role of Murphy well enough that he could indeed make the series viable again for a new generation of RoboCop fans. In this version, his family doesn’t leave after his injury, in itself making this a more mature version of the tale.
Jackie Earle Haley plays Omnicorp’s head of security, tasked with bringing Robocop up to speed for his potential battles with bad guys. He’s appropriately acerbic and cynical, not buying into the idea that putting a man inside a suit will make the machine better or safer overall. He also paraphrases one of the most memorable lines from the original movie.
And Samuel L. Jackson has the daunting task of setting the stage for each chapter in the story with strategically placed installments of The Novak Element, a futuristic talk show where he touts the necessity of America embracing the mechanical military age to allow machines to police our cities since they are less likely to be corruptible.
Setting aside mountains of empirical data that suggest that making machines responsible for our personal safety is not a good idea, in the future presented here, humanity has embraced the concept, but not necessarily in a good way. I find it difficult to digest, for instance, that the machines in Tehran would be completely bug free given the temperature extremes in that region.
Even with those potential inconsistencies aside, however, this is still a finely crafted cautionary tale that has the potential to become an even better series than it was originally. I give RoboCop 2014 4 out of 5 stars.