I Saw A Film Today… Robocop

roboI’m not opposed to remakes. Done properly, they can be impressive. I’ve said it before, and I’m positive I’ll have to reference it again in the future, but Dredd is a perfect example of this. The ’95 version was both a critical and commercial failure. But following a truer version of the 2000 A.D. character and lo and behold, a brilliant film is born. Why a sequel isn’t being produced yet is a mystery. But back to the present, with each remake I’m always apprehensive as well, as time and time again Hollywood studios have shown they are willing to milk a franchise dry if there might be some profit made.

Set in a fictitious future world, where instead of crime depleting [as stats are showing now in the actual present (early plot hole)], the conglomerate OmniCorp and it’s CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) has cornered the market in mass producing drones and man-less droids to police the world over.

Except in the good ole U.S. of A. A pasty-faced frump Senator Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) has blocked such types of totalitarian policing stateside. But not one to take no for an answer, Sellers instead offers not a machine but, a man in a machine, Or vice versa, as a way to show robots can police.

Insert Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who recently was burned over 80% of his body after his car exploded. After his wife is badgered into signing him into the Robocop experiment, in no time at all Alex is off and fighting crime in the streets of Detroit. Well, I mean if you consider spending half the film not doing much of anything a “no time” time frame.

I don’t plan to harp on the differences of this film compared to that of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic. I believe every film should be judged by its own merits, but it is important to recognize the source material. What makes the ’87 film so brilliant was it’s brilliant social satire of the American 80’s , as well as being a well crafted violent science fiction work. Some social themes, such as corruption, gentrification, and over-saturation of media still resonate today, and for all time I imagine sadly.

When it comes to this remake, you get a soggy and dull version of those ideas. You briefly get a glimmer of hope of a social commentary at the onset of the movie, much like the original. It starts off in a US-oppressed Tehran, Iran that looks like the wet dreams of Tea Baggers and Republicans alike. Robots are shown doing “random” stop-and-frisks of citizens on the street. And this is what is best for the future of America, according to a Fox News-esque rouser voiced by non-other than Mr. Sam Jackson. Somewhat effective use of satire. But after this scene, any type of modern social relevance is only a limp crutch to keep the film on its unbalanced feet.

But the biggest crutch of Robocop is the fact that it is really dull and lumbering. I’m not really a big fan of mindless non-stop action usually, mainly because they are rarely done well. But when you sell a film as a mindless non-stop caliber action movie, its kind of called for to have both mindless action and for it to be non-stop. Instead, you get uninspired moments of bland violence and gunfights in between scenes of uninspired dialogue you can find nearly anywhere on a DVD shelf with a PG-13 label.

Okay, I lied. I’m going to take a moment here to harp on differences between the original and this. Because it is within the nearly two hours of mindless scenes that you have time to think on the pitfalls and plot holes of this rehash. Such as, why make this film PG-13? The original was strengthened by bloody gore. It illustrated the bleakness of the satirical. Plus, most of the crowd coming to see this want to see crimson explosions bursting from human bodies. Here, it holds back the full potential of that with safe cutaways. Another aspect is the remake tries to focus more on the family. Which you would think would make this more interesting, but it puts a damp towel on the entire story. Now I understand why Verhoevan left most of that out in the original.

Maybe this would have been better as well if it didn’t feel like everyone involved phoned in performances. Except for Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson, who always brings an inspired performance. Well, maybe Jackson is just really good at yelling stuff. But the rest of the cast really has no excuse for their blandness. Which is sad, especially for greats like the above mentioned and the subtles greats like Michael K. Williams and Jackie Earle Haley. Maybe it was a form of typecasting. Maybe they just saw this as a nice payday. Whatever the case, they contributed very little.

I hoped that this film could at least be an entertaining blockbuster. I didn’t really expect more from it. But in the end, where was the entertainment?

Verdict: Skip it!

*Rated PG-13/UK: 12A for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality, and some drug material. 117 minutes. Directed by José Padilha (Bus 174, The Elite Squad).

** Thanks to Cody for seeing this with me.

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