RoboCop

It is 2028 and all around the world, the law enforcement robots of Omnicorp, run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), are maintaining order in several countries, except the United States where the publicly popular Dreyfus Act, initiated by Senator Dreyfus (Zach Grenier), prohibits their use.  Sellars and his management team brainstorm on a way to make the American public more receptive to robot police.  Their plan is to put a man inside the machine.  They’ll find an injured policeman who can no longer serve, attach various mechanical parts to him and introduce him as RoboCop, hoping to sway public opinion in their favor.  Sellars approaches Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) who is working with amputees and replacing their missing limbs with robotic parts.  Omnicorp funds his research and he agrees to try and meld a man and a machine.  Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is an honest cop working in a city that has far too many crooked police officers:  Detroit, Michigan.  He and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael Kenneth Williams) are on the trail of local drug and weapons kingpin Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow).  They get close to catching Vallon in a sting when someone tips the bad guy off leading to a gunfight in a restaurant.  Vallon gets away and Jack is severely wounded.  Murphy gets reprimanded by his boss, Chief Karen Dean (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and derided by two detectives who may be dirty and working with Vallon.  After visiting Jack in the hospital, Murphy returns home to his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and their son David (John Paul Ruttan).  After David is in bed and Alex and Clara are about to have some adult time, Alex’s car alarm goes off.  His key fob doesn’t shut the alarm down, so he goes outside to silence it manually.  When he opens the door, a bomb planted by one of Vallon’s men explodes, nearly killing Murphy.  Murphy is seriously burned, blind in one eye, probably deaf and has lost a leg and an arm.  Dr. Norton talks with Clara and gets her to consent to the procedures that will turn her husband into RoboCop.  The question is will he not only replace Murphy’s missing body parts but his humanity as well?
 
While this remake of the 1987 sci-fi/action classic looks better than the original, “RoboCop (2014)” is certainly a pale imitation.  One can’t help but feel the messages of corporate greed, haves versus have-nots and media manipulation are heavily watered down or missing completely.  This modern version tends to get bogged down in the ethics of what they are doing to Murphy while merely skimming the surface of the subject.  It never feels like either side has a very convincing argument to make.  This is likely because there was another action scene that needed to be shot and required a great deal more hands-on attention than something as simple as the story.
 
Aside from feeling a bit shallow, “RoboCop (2014)” also suffers from a lead actor that is utterly forgettable.  Joel Kinnaman is a rather bland performer.  While he seems to be able to cry on cue, his emotional range is rather narrow.  His scenes with Abbie Cornish in the beginning of the movie are awkward.  It looks like he and Cornish just met that day and were then supposed to shoot a bedroom scene.  It all feels very clunky and uncomfortable.  The suit actually seems to free up Kinnaman’s acting as he displays far more emotion as a robot than a man.  It’s an odd performance to say the least.
 
The rest of the cast is average to good with the “Scenery Chewing Championship” trophy going to Samuel L. Jackson as TV talk show host Pat Novak.  Wearing a wig that appears to have come from the James Brown collection, Jackson makes the most of his three or four scenes.  He gesticulates and bellows his views with the best of today’s talking heads and even gives us his signature curse near the end of the film (which is bleeped because he’s supposed to be on TV).  Jackson is supposed to play the role of the Bill O’Reilly’s and Rush Limbaugh’s of the world but is actually more like a carnival barker trying to get your attention so he can sell you ticket to the freak show.  It’s an entertaining distraction but still just a distraction.
 
Jackie Earle Haley on the other hand is a scene stealer in his role as Rick Mattox, the hard-edged military tactician responsible for training RoboCop.  He refers to Murphy as “Tin Man” and even plays the song “If I Only Had a Brain” from the Wizard of Oz during a simulated mission.  He prefers the autonomous robots of Omnicorp to the melding of man and machine and doesn’t hide his dislike of Murphy.  He becomes a far more dangerous enemy than you might expect.  Haley plays the part with a cold assuredness that never comes off as creepy.  He’s a man with a mission and he lets nothing get in the way of that, not even a $2-billion plus cyborg.  I think Haley might have been a better choice to play Keaton’s part.  I’m not saying Keaton is bad (because he rarely is) but Haley appears better able to put on the slick, slimy business tycoon persona; making you feel like he’s actually worried about you when he’s plotting to put a knife in your back.
 
As I said before, the movie looks very good.  Kinnaman is given a couple of very sleek Robo suits and actually makes them appear flattering.  Seeing from RoboCop’s perspective as his computer-enhanced brain analyzes and assesses a situation is interesting since he has instant access to the police database and all closed-circuit security cameras in the city.  He’s able to quickly find the location of suspects or their associates and plot a course to intercept them on his sleek black motorcycle.  The way RoboCop reconstructs a crime scene reminded me of the video game “Batman:  Arkham Origins.”  There is a similar feature in that game allowing you to digitally reconstruct events in the past.  All the visual effects, from the touchscreen computers, floating video displays and CGI robotic characters look very good.  There is the usual odd movements of some of the computer generated robots and weird bits of physics that don’t look right but they are few and far between.
 
The story, while somewhat sparse, moves at a good pace and doesn’t have many slowdowns.  Whenever there is some philosophical discussion about Murphy’s situation, that’s when the movie hits a brick wall.  There could have been a way to make those sections more interesting as shown in the original film.  I guess the writers simply weren’t up to the task or they couldn’t take the time to punch up the script due to deadlines.  Either way, “RoboCop (2014)” is just an action picture and not much else.
 
“RoboCop (2014)” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.  There are numerous gun battles, none of which show much blood.  The most graphic damage is shown on RoboCop’s suit and bits and pieces of it are shot off.  There is a scene when RoboCop pulls a suspect out of his car through the window and then steps on his hand to get him to talk.  The sensuality is very brief and shows a woman in her bra but still wearing pants.  I cannot remember the drug material at all.  Foul language is sparse.
 
While it has all the ingredients for a great sci-fi/action film, “RoboCop (2014)” lacks something missing from all mechanical men…heart.  There also appears to be a shortage of guts as well since the original film was far more willing to take a hard look at what were the questions it posed.  This remake decides to just deal with stereotypical greedy businessmen and pretty much leave it at that.  It doesn’t do itself any favors by focusing on action and special effects.
 
“RoboCop (2014)” gets three underwhelmed guitars out of five.
 
This week, international intrigue and historical catastrophe are your choices at the theatre.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
 
3 Days to Kill—Kevin Costner is a dangerous international spy, who is determined to give up his high stakes life to finally build a closer relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, whom he's previously kept at arm's length to keep out of danger. But first, he must complete one last mission- even if it means juggling the two toughest assignments yet: hunting down the world's most ruthless terrorist and looking after his teenage daughter.
 
Pompeii—Set in 79 A.D., POMPEII tells the epic story of Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently playing in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions or comments should be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.