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RoboCop (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ROBOCOP (2014)

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley

Written By: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier (story), Michael Miner (story)

Directed By: Jose Padilha

The Short Version

A sci fi classic gets a sanitized reboot for a new century.

There’s promise in the updated social commentary…

…until someone decreed that the punch had to be taken away for a PG-13 rating.

It’s not bad... and you all know what that means.

RoboCop could have been so much more, but instead, it’s just a forgettably mediocre remake.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

LEFTOVER SPREAD.

It doesn’t matter what kind.  It tastes like fridge.


Pairs Well With...

SHARP'S.

Something’s missing.  Something important.

“What do these machines feel?  If one of them killed a child, what would it feel?”

“Nothing.”


In 1987, the world was introduced to RoboCopUltraviolent, satirical, prophetic, and an undeniable game changer; Paul Verhoeven’s instant classic went on to be one of the most imitated films of the next two and a half decades, even though nothing – including its official sequels and spin-off television series – ever proved to be its equal.

Flash forward to the second decade of the 21st Century.  Of course Hollywood was going to remake it, whether anyone had actually asked for that to happen or not.  The loaded question is: did they do a good job of it, or did they just toss money at a name and throw some “tactical” black paint on it?

The unfortunately predictable answer: there’s plenty of potential for RoboCop to be a good movie, but The Powers That Be were too scared to risk doing it right, so they watered it down and then tossed some “tactical” black paint on it.  Whether one approaches the film as a remake to be set against its illustrious predecessor (unfair, but inevitable) or as a standalone feature best judged on its own merits is immaterial; the end result is the same.  What should have been a sharp, gripping, fun, exciting, and thoughtful motion picture is instead mediocre snack food at best, despite the best efforts of certain members of the cast to go for something greater.

In this version of the story, set in a too-soon future of 2028, the United States is more entrenched than ever in its role as the world’s policeman, and it’s doing that job not with men and women in military uniforms, but rather with an outsourced army of robots and drones supplied by a company called OmniCorp.  This has, of course, been a major boon for the company, but thanks to the fact that a majority of Americans aren’t very comfortable with the idea of weaponized robots patrolling their own neighborhoods at home, OmniCorp hasn’t been able to break into that most potentially lucrative market of all: namely, the domestic one.  What they need is a robot that’s not a robot, a drone that’s not a drone… like a cyborg!  An otherwise severely injured or disabled human who could be outfitted with a robotic form while still carrying a human face and an allegedly human heart and mind.  (The public doesn’t need to know that the software’s really in charge, right?  The point is to circumvent everyone’s squeamishness, after all.)  Someone the masses can get behind just long enough for those silly laws banning drones and robots from being used on American soil to be repealed so that OmniCorp can start making some serious money.  But where to find a suitable candidate, one wonders…

Hey, what do you know!  It looks like a Detroit police officer named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, Safe House) just ate a car bomb.  People like hero cops.  Someone call Marketing; it looks like we have a winner…

...or maybe not.  Though someone definitely did call Marketing.

RoboCop is a movie that begs to be relevant.  Its aspirations are great and readily apparent; the messages of its screenplay are pertinent and far-reaching.  But somewhere between the studio executives and the people immediately on the set (exactly where depends on whom one chooses to ask and which version of which interview or quotation taken in or out of context one choose to believe), the machinations that resulted in Alex Murphy getting his freshly minted coat of “tactical” black paint also removed the movie’s soul.

Whether or not one approaches this film as a remake inexorably linked to its predecessor, the fact is that its greatest failures come from ignoring one of the original picture’s greatest lessons: if one wants a point to be made and to hold fast in the memory of the audience, one cannot afford to hold back while trying to make it.  Paul Verhoeven did not hold back in 1987, and the result was an enduring classic.  This RoboCop, however, does hold back at nearly every opportunity it has to reach out and grab the audience, and the result is a mediocre action flick that never grabs the audience at all – pop culture candy that’s “not bad,” but utterly forgettable.

Why yes, the decision to remake a movie that was one of the hardest “R” ratings ever to pass the MPAA and turn it into an extremely “PG-13” flick does in fact make a huge difference.  Given the first couple weeks’ worth of box office returns, maybe this will be the moment when studio executives realize that there is no positive percentage to be gained from this kind of stupid maneuver (okay, I doubt it, but), and that far from guaranteeing larger returns, it only serves to annoy audiences and – most importantly from an artistic perspective – destroy stories.  Sometimes, a violent movie needs to be violent.  Sometimes, something vital to making a story work or to making a point meaningful gets lost when violent stories are sanitized.  And when the path of eggshells first becomes embarked upon for one aspect of a story, that excess of caution inevitably spreads to the rest of it.  Characters become bland; messages get muddled; passions are muted. 

Every time that RoboCop has the opportunity to connect with the audience and make a point, the punch is pulled.

Every time that RoboCop threatens to start becoming fun, the characters go out of their way to remind everyone that none of them are having fun, so why should anyone else?

Every time that RoboCop has the opportunity to stir real passion… oh, wait.  That never happens.

Watching Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) give an impassioned performance wherein his character runs through a roller coaster of ethics and considers the nature of free will should be spellbinding, and he tries to make it so, but it’s an uphill battle that he just can’t win.  The same goes for Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch), who tries so hard to turn her role as the beleaguered wife into something more, only to have her character reduced to a mere plot device with dialogue.  Michael Keaton (Batman) plays the part he’s given exactly as written, but that character is one of blandest, most boring villains in recent action film memory.

Speaking of boring, one of the more powerful prognostications of the original movie was the Fall of Detroit, which has now, of course, happened to such an extent that pictures of the devastated city from Verhoeven’s film are compared to modern images of the real city and found to look better.  But that, of course, is the sort of sensitive topic that Marketing types shy away from, and so even though the Detroit of this RoboCop is supposed to be a crime-ruined disaster, it is, as pictured, the cleanest crime-ridden disaster you’ll ever see.  (It is, in fact, the relatively safe haven of Toronto.)  Kind of hard to buy into the rough-and-nasty message against that kind of backdrop, you know?

I almost cared enough to get peeved at the discovery that the character of Murphy’s partner had needlessly been changed from being female to male, and I still feel as though I should be, but the corporate, sanitized reality of this RoboCop is numbing. I'd also like to be angry that the wackily fun 1987 vintage baddie Boddicker has been remade into a wax dummy of a hair model in the form of Vallon, but that, too, would involve an emotional investment I just can't be driven to make here.

And then there’s the moment, right at the end, when Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers) goes on a profanity-laden rant and his expletives are bleeped out.  Yes, bleeped out.  The arguable context of the film is that he’s speaking on network television at the time, but I think that the moronic censorship – had he actually been allowed to say the two words he clearly uses aloud, it might have been enough of a push for the film to hit a soft “R” – pretty well sums up the entire experience of RoboCop: the experience of soulless corporate sanitization.

A lot of me wants to tell you that RoboCop is bad, but technically speaking, it isn’t.  It may be soulless, but as “in one eyeball and out the other” material, there’s worse out there.  It may be utterly forgettable, but it’s a fair enough distraction to be a passable view on a streaming service when the time comes.  I suppose.

I just find it impossible to care.

Bottom line, like so many other soulless, heavily sanitized corporate products, RoboCop is just kinda there.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, February, 2014


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