Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Robocop

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Both unnecessary and entirely too busy for its own good, Jose Padhila's remake of "Robocop" is all over the damn place.

The film, which looks good visually and boasts a few well-choreographed action sequences, aims at being a satire, a societal critique and an R rated-themed action movie in a PG-13 film. For years, there has been talk of a "Robocop" reboot - with Darren Aronofsky in talks at one point - and the finished product may result in a collective meh.

The good news is that the film is bursting with character actors - including Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Abbie Cornish and Michael K. Williams, AKA Omar from "The Wire" - playing various good guys and villains. The bad news is that they are given little to do.

Jackson, for instance, always brings wit and personality to whatever role he inhabits. So, it's unfortunate that he is at the center of the absolute worst idea running throughout the film. The picture kicks off with Jackson, playing a loudmouthed political talk show host in the vein of Bill O'Reilly, questioning why the United States is so "robo-phobic" and insisting that machines be put on America's streets for crime fighting. We then cut to one of the film's more distasteful sequences during which said robots battle it out with Iranian citizens on the streets of Tehran.

Jackson's character, whose name is Pat Novak, is brought back every 30 or minutes or so to comment on the action taking place in the film, bashing the film's themes over our heads as if they were complex in the first place. For those who might complain that Stanley Tucci's talk show host sequences feel a little out of place in "The Hunger Games" films, you ain't seen nothing. The scenes with Jackson bring the story's momentum to a complete halt.

Otherwise, "Robocop" sort of sticks to the script of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film in that an honest cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, doing his best with the material) is nearly blown to pieces in the line of duty. He is placed in a robotic suit, courtesy of a greedy business magnate (Keaton), whom it behooves financially to sell the concept of robot law enforcement to the U.S. Congress, and a well-intentioned scientist (Oldman).

Once in his armor, Murphy attempts to track down the criminals, whose enterprise is rather vague, and crooked cops who set him up. Cornish plays his wife, whose job is to mostly wring her hands and look concerned.

The film boasts some halfway decent action sequences, although several of them are shot in that frenetic style that often makes it difficult to discern who is shooting at whom.

But the film is sunk by bad ideas - Jackson's talk show host, subplots that do not completely make sense, the opening scene in Iran and some poor choices in the writing. An example of the latter occurs when Oldman, Keaton and some other associates are flipping through the files of potential wounded officers to become Robocop. Most of them are white - that is, until a black candidate pops up on the screen, prompting one of the characters to note something to the effect that the man is "very popular among the urban set." Really?

I'll admit that although I'm fond of many of Verhoeven's films - especially his early Dutch work, "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct" - I've never been a big fan of the original "Robocop." So, it's not as if this remake is a big letdown to me. However, the concept for the film is intriguing enough to have led to something better than this new version. Unfortunately, the film is as clunky as its protagonist.

1 comment:

  1. So many blockbusters these days seem to want to ape the Nolan Batman films' success in casting a lot of character actors. The difference is Nolan gave those actors something to do. Someone like Michael K. Williams deserves so much more than a Robocop remake nobody asked for.