RoboCop (2014): Part Man. Part Machine. All Boring.
Contrary to common social media wisdom, remakes aren’t always a bad thing. From John Carpenter’s The Thing, to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, to any number of 1960’s westerns that were just unauthorized rehashes of Akira Kurosawa films, a lot of good has come out of taking preexisting ideas and filtering them through the mind of a different director. And that, in essence, is what’s so troubling about the new RoboCop. By all rights, it should have been good! By no means was this a project automatically doomed to failure. The original is a certified genre classic, far better than a lot of people give it credit for, and the concept might be even more relevant now than it was in the 80’s. There’s so much fertile ground there, so much that could have been done with this (mostly) great cast and super-talented Brazilian director José Padilha at the helm. Instead, we got a few frustrating moments of promise mixed with a whole lot of soul-crushing boredom.
The year is 2028, and robotic law enforcement solutions developed by OmniCorp are seeing massive success around the globe. Well…we’re told that they’re used everywhere but America, but we only see them hard at work “pacifying” a restless population in Tehran. I have a hard time seeing an army of ED-209 units going over well in any part of the world less accustomed to America’s particular brand of assistance than the Middle East, but “everywhere except here” is what we’re told. OmniCorp head Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) is eager to tap into the lucrative American market, but he’s having a hard time getting past the Senate, which strongly opposes the idea of unfeeling robots being given free reign to pull the trigger on US citizens. Hitting on the idea of a robot guided by a human personality and conscience, he enlists the help of the initially reluctant cybernetics expert Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). Unable to find a suitable candidate for the procedure in a single afternoon, Sellers immediately conspires with a Detroit crimelord to carbomb police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), whose wife fortunately is alright with signing his barely-living husk over to OmniCorp. Because who doesn’t trust big business?
Somehow, it all just feels more strained than it did in 1987. It’s not that the concept doesn’t hold up–like I said before, the original is still a great film and I think there’s still plenty to explore with the idea of robotic or cybernetic law enforcement. Director Paul Verhoeven walked a pretty narrow tightrope between hyperviolent sci-fi action and dry social satire with his RoboCop, and that’s where this one starts to fall apart. It’s practically a textbook lesson on why a talented foreign director transitioning to Hollywood just isn’t the great idea that it used to be, as well as a clear indicator that the big studios no longer have any idea who their audience is. This isn’t the usual case where a hack director or a completely misguided screenplay capsizes a project right off the bat. Watching this film, one gets the overwhelming sense that a capable and well-meaning filmmaker was simply crushed under the weight of the New Studio System. I mean, I don’t have any insider information here, but I feel pretty safe assuming that it went down like this.
Want to remake one of the most violent mainstream films of all time? Great, but we’re giving you $100 million here, so it has to be PG-13 so it can pull in a big enough audience to make its money back. The already built-in audience is looking for an R rating? Hahaha what? No way. Look, if it makes you feel better you can have all the guns you want, but they can’t make anyone bleed. Maybe just have the movie’s biggest shootout in a dark room or something. You’re the director, you figure it out. Want to put in some political satire? Okay, but we’re bringing in Samuel L. Jackson to spell it out word for word. Maybe he can even throw in a little “too long; didn’t read” at the end in case the audience doesn’t get it. Look, you can’t just imply things. We’re not giving you a hundred million dollars for implications, do we look like amateurs? Just to be sure we need you to use the word “Robophobic” and make sure there’s something to do with the Middle East so people know you’re being topical. Oh and by the way, we know that the original had a fairly groundbreaking non-love interest female supporting role in RoboCop’s partner Officer Lewis but…look…RoboCop’s wife is in this one and that’s already a lot of ladies, so let’s just cut to the chase and say that his partner is Omar from The Wire now. Hey also we should probably let you know that we couldn’t get a very good actor to play RoboCop this time. What’s that? I’m driving through a tunnel and also I am busy setting all this money on fire! You’re breaking up! Gotta go! Good luck!
Whew. Tough job for anybody, right? And it shows! There are moments of occasional greatness, such as the scene where RoboCop makes his very first surprise arrest, but those are far outbalanced by the scenes where they essentially put the studio meddling right there onscreen where you can see it. “Make him more tactical. Let’s go with black” sounds like the exact conversation that led to the X-Men movie costumes fourteen whole years ago. There are some great supporting roles–Jackie Earle Haley is great as Rick Mattox, the robotic weaponry expert who puts RoboCop through his initial training runs, and Gary Oldman in particular feels like he’s always walking in from a much better movie. But then other characters–ones who are sort of essential to the story, mind you–have literally seconds of screentime. Think back on Kurtwood Smith’s amazing performance as Clarence J. Boddicker in the original, and try not to frown too hard when I tell you that his character’s analogue in this version has somewhere around two scenes and not a single memorable line or personality trait. Instead of awaiting the grisly end of a truly bad guy who you can’t wait to see die, you just have to live with the big showdown here being “engaging” because of “reasons”.
So yeah, that’s the problem, basically. RoboCop should have been good. For excruciatingly brief moments, it is good. Even if it had been terrible, a true mutilation of the source material along the lines of Tim Burton’s execrable Planet of the Apes, that would have been less frustrating. But instead it’s just PG-13 studio notes: the movie–bloodless, edgeless, safe, bland, and sadly forgettable.
Posted on February 16, 2014, in Movies, Reviews and tagged Alex Murphy, bitches leave, boring remakes, ED-209, I work for Dick Jones, I'd buy that for a dollar, Jose Padilha, OCP, OmniCorp, remake, RoboCop, studio meddling. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.