The Hollywood remake machine is still in full swing and as we see more and more of these watered down retreads one wonders if the studio execs will ever stop (Note: That was a totally rhetorical question we all know they won’t). Remaking a popular film is all about “Brand Recognition” where good feelings toward a past good product will hopefully translate to sales on the new one; sadly this does work, well at least for the opening weekend box office, before word of mouth kills it. That opening weekend and Home Video sales mean a remake has better than even shot to at least make its money back or possibly even make a profit. Good or bad doesn’t even figure into it.
Director José Padilha’s 2014 remake of Robocop is not a terrible film, but it certainly isn’t a good one either. Padilha is on record as describing working on this project as “The worst experience of my life” because the studio wouldn’t allow him any creative control over their product. He wanted to make a hard “R” rated film like the original but they forced him to deliver a PG-13 rating to insure a wider audience to recoup the ever expanding budget. So what we were left with was a tepid action film where Robocop runs around armed with Taser Bullets.
Paul Verhoeven‘s 1987 original film was a satiric look at society and consumerism. How corporate greed and crime go hand in hand. Jump ahead to 2014 and that is a harder thing to satirize now because much of what we saw in the original Robocop we now see on the Six O’clock News. Minus the cool robots of course.
José Padilha’s film, like the original, is set in the near future where a multinational corporation called Omnicorp has produced robot drones and soldiers to police countries all over the world. Robots do “Stop and Frisk” checks as they march down the streets of Tehran and lethally blowing away any threats. The only thing stopping Omnicorp from getting their products out on American streets is the “Dreyfus Act” which will not allow unmanned robots to patrol American cities. CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) comes up with a workaround. Put a human inside a robot, sway public opinion, get that bill repealed.
Enter Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) who is one of the worst written characters I’ve come across in some time. He is the scientist behind Robocop but his motivations are almost non-existent, and his morals swing back and forth like a crazed pendulum. He’s introduced as the altruistic scientist who is using robot prosthetic limbs to help people. A man who lost his hands can now play the guitar again. He is approached by Raymond Sellers, his boss, with this Robocop idea and at first he is against it because he was promised that his work would never be put into military applications.
He is convinced to get on board because the Robocop program will bring in tons of money which can be used for his humanitarian causes. Oldman tries to create a sympathetic character and then the script just jumps the rails and has the good doctor electronically modifying Alex Murphy’s brain so that when in combat mode the human part of him is just along for the ride while the computer is in full control. And later, when Murphy is showing a bit of emotional trauma, he drugs him into a zombie state. Are these the actions of an altruistic humanitarian doctor? These aren’t the actions of any doctor who has even heard of the Hippocratic Oath. Of course in the third act he will rush to Murphy’s aid because he suddenly realizes he’s been a complete ass-hat.
Let’s talk villains. This film has several but unfortunately they are all lame; CEO Raymond Sellers is the corporate head who doesn’t actually break any laws until he decides to scrap Robocop because his being human could become embarrassing. We have Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) who is this film’s Clarence Boddicker but aside from failing to kill Alex Murphy (twice), he is a non-entity and certainly not as scary as Kurtwood Smith’s character from the original. Then there is Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) who runs the military robot program and hates the idea of a human inside a robot. He’s in this movie just to be the Snidely Whiplash dickhead but structurally serves no real purpose to the story.
And as for Robocop himself, well Joel Kinnaman does his best with a very unbalanced script. His character has to go from incorruptible hero cop to a man traumatized by being turned into a machine, and then a zombie like automaton when he is brainwashed later in the film. It’s like the writers took elements from the Six Million Dollar Man and tried to graft them onto a world more in keeping with Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. The actual design of Robocop isn’t too bad but I do hate the glowing red Cylon visor. We also spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with his family and as written I couldn’t care less about them.
The original Robocop was about a man who loses his humanity and struggles to get it back, in this remake his character runs into a few bumps along the way but for most of the film’s running time Alex Murphy is still Alex Murphy. We never get that awesome ending (spoilers) where the head of OCP asks, “Nice shooting, son. What’s your name?” and is answered “Murphy.” That’s how you end a movie, that puts a nice punctuation on a hero’s journey to find himself.
I really wish we could have seen José Padilha’s true vision for Robocop because the one we got has just a couple cool action scenes, is cluttered with characters whose only motivations are to move the story forward whether or not it is logical, and then it ends in an insanely stupid showdown.
• A car bomb that detonates when a person is about to get into the car, and not when they are actually inside. So basically a shit design for a car bomb.
• We are told that the villains all carry heavy enough caliber bullets to kill Robocop; yet he is hit many, many times and they fail to kill him.
• Samuel Jackson as some kind of Bill O’Reilly corporate shill does seem to be having fun.
• Every time this movie quoted lines from the original film it just reminded me how much better Verhoeven’s movie was.
• The ending climax where Robocop faces off against evil CEO doesn’t make a lick of sense.