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Movie Review | ‘RoboCop’ reboot disappoints

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 09:02

 “RoboCop” is the latest Hollywood reboot to grace theaters in the off-season of cinema. It’s difficult to address the level of irony surrounding the idea of a “RoboCop” reboot, seeing as the “RoboCop” franchise has already suffered two disappointing sequels after the 1987 debut film — a movie which openly mocked American consumerism by interrupting its narrative with zany, eerily-to-the-point commercials. But there’s hope: maybe remaking “RoboCop” and perpetuating an endless cycle of re-hashed cultural capital is a highly ironic, sophisticated nod to its original anti-capitalist sentiments?

No such luck. Unfortunately, “RoboCop” is a standard blockbuster movie through and through, one that retains only the dregs of authenticity from its cult-classic predecessor. What’s even worse is witnessing its woeful efforts to capture the satirical bent of the original film. In the end, these attempts are really more salt in the wound than anything else.

The film opens with Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) — a parody of a conservative news anchor — proclaiming that America is “robo-phobic” for not allowing ominously named OmniCorp robots to police its streets the same way they do in other countries. Public opinion shows that America does not want androids as civilian law enforcement — and neither the deflecting replies nor the vaguely Steve Jobs-esque demeanor of Mr. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) — CEO of OmniCorp and contrived corporate antagonist — can change that.

Enter Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an incorruptible cop and charming family man. While getting frisky with the wife (Abbie Cornish), Murphy stops to go turn off his malfunctioning car alarm only to experience the ultimate coitus interruptus in the form of an explosion that forces him to choose between death or becoming a RoboCop. Unfortunately he doesn’t have much say in the matter, as Dr. Dennet Norton — played by Gary Oldman — informs Alex’s wife that going through with the RoboCop procedure is the only way to save her husband’s life. Interestingly, Norton’s first name may in fact be a courteous nod to one Daniel Dennet, Tufts Professor of Philosophy, whose field of expertise is related (albeit tenuously) to the philosophical trappings of “RoboCop.”

What ensues is a great deal of explosions, schizophrenic screen-within-screen camerawork and plenty of motorcycle driving. There isn’t much to say about this, except for that amid this chaos, there are actually interesting elements that surround the protracted revenge fantasy that makes up the bulk of the plot. This latest reincarnation of “RoboCop” places considerable attention on just how difficult it would be to be RoboCop. The movie makes sure to inform audiences of all the various medical materials and surrogate body fluids needed to keep Murphy’s few organic remnants alive. In fact, one of the film’s most powerful moments is its reveal of how much of Murphy’s real body remains: a head, a hand, lungs and heart. Not only does the audience watch as his lungs pump away inside a transparent pod, Murphy himself is horrified as he sees the remnants of himself suspended in the air, grotesquely visible, brutally minimal.

And really it’s too bad — the movie has certain elements like this that could be explored further — things that could make a truly original movie (or, rather, a truly original remake). Plotlines like the mob story — which is resolved in one uninspired shootout — or even the catastrophic emotional toll that being mostly robotic would take on anybody are intriguing, but the film only vaguely addresses these issues and never sustains its efforts. It isn’t in the cards for “RoboCop.” Instead, the few inspired details are lost in the fray as the movie descends inevitably into the typical motions of a mainstream action film. Even the jabs at the American rightwing via newscaster Novak — which are supposed to replace the commercials that helped make the original “RoboCop” so endearingly subversive — are more funny than poignant. Watching Jackson parody a conservative impresario is entertaining, but it carries little satirical weight after a while.

The major problem is that the new “RoboCop” takes itself too seriously. The movie is too obvious to offer an interesting or even substantial polemic against corporate greed or neo-imperialism, except to briefly mention that these robots, like modern day drones, unfairly subjugate the world to technological terror — an assertion that is both half-baked and not all that incisive as an analogy. But given that this is a reboot of a movie that is already pretty silly to begin with, it’s surprising that the real insult of seeing this movie is spying the glints of promise, only to watch as they’re swallowed into the vortex of a canned Hollywood narrative.

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