Directed by: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael Keaton, Jay Baruchel
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material
There are movies so bad they’re good, so bad they’re just bad… and then there’s films like the “Robocop” remake. It’s not very good, but rather than feeling straight-up bad, it feels more like two hours of missed opportunities. There are some fun and interesting things going on in this film, but they’re never developed or given full rein, so they just sort of fizzle. There isn’t even enough action to make the film worth seeing just for that.
The basic story is the same: policeman is nearly killed by criminals and is rebuilt to be part man, part machine, all cop! The new film, however, is much less dark (the original was edited to avoid an X rating, the new one is PG-13), to the point that Detroit seems almost crime-free other than the gun smuggling being done by the main baddie.
The new film also spends a lot more time on exposition and meditations on the evils of huge multinational corporations, but never really draws any conclusions about any of it. Samuel L. Jackson plays a national commentator with his own show and rants and raves about the good robots are doing in other countries and the good they could do Stateside, and is pretty clearly meant to be viewed with suspicion – but at the same time, the evil robot-making company also funds amazing prosthetics and other rehabilitative robotic medicine… which we only see in one scene. It’s never revisited. The doctor (played by Gary Oldman) who heads the project of rebuilding Murphy is a good guy pressured into doing bad things and clearly meant to be sympathetic, but there are also several scenes in which he’s basically a mad scientist.
There are scenes dealing with media blackouts, constant public surveillance, pre-emptive violence, and a host of other related themes, but the film never bothers to come down on a side in any of the points of contention. Some films can raise questions without answering them and be coherent and thoughtful, but “Robocop” is assuredly not one of them. It feels more like the answers to the questions were left on the cutting room floor along with half the violence. Given the sheer amount of time spent on the setup, lack of follow through is just lazy.
A movie like this should at least be worth seeing for the fight scenes, and the few we get are really good. The special effects are solid, which is vital – but almost the entire film is taken up with people talking to each other. Corporate strategy sessions, discussions about dirty cops, monologues about the place of robots in modern society all abound, but fail utterly to be particularly interesting. Worse, we have to wait through all this dull question-raising and exposition for about a third of the film before Murphy actually becomes Robocop.
Given the cast, this movie should have been a slam dunk. Our hero is played by Joel Kinnaman, a virtual unknown, but there’s Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Jackie Earle Haley, all of them solid actors with big films and some awesome performances under their belts. Maybe the director is to blame – José Padilha’s credits are mostly documentaries. Or maybe it’s the script – Joshua Zetumer was tasked with rewriting the 1987 screenplay and has no other screenwriting credits to his name.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter why the film isn’t worth seeing. Given how much the world has changed between 1987 and now, “Robocop” is an obvious film to remake. It offers opportunities to comment on modern technology and current tensions around government surveillance and corporate power. This could have been an interesting movie, or at least a fun rollercoaster ride, but it’s neither. It fails to be either good or bad, and instead is merely uninteresting.