Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”)
Written by: Joshua Zetumer (debut)
Question: is it fair to judge a remake/reboot by how it compares to the original film? After all, with the near-instant availability of pretty much every movie ever made via streaming or download, its easier than ever to to tick off essential film boxes on your personal movie watching checklist. Remakes don’t exist in a vacuum, especially remakes of beloved modern classics. If we’re being honest, remakes are at least partly banking on the movie-going public having at least a passing knowledge of the original film.
Answer: yeah, absolutely. And when it comes to the new remake of “RoboCop,” the comparison (probably not surprisingly) isn’t favorable.
Like the gory 1987 sci-fi satire, the modern “RoboCop” centers on Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). As an undercover cop, Murphy and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are made by a drug lord (Patrick Garrow) they’ve been investigating. After a shootout in a restaurant leaves Lewis hospitalized, the drug lord’s goons go after Murphy by detonating a car bomb in front of his home leaving Murphy comatose and paralyzed.
Meanwhile OmniCorp, a giant corporation responsible for producing robotic drones that keep the peace in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, desperately desires to bring its killbots to U.S. soil. Federal law prohibits robots from conducting law enforcement, however, due to the fact that the ‘bots aren’t capable of human decision-making, a law that is a frequent target of rage for outspoken talk show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson). The promise of raking in billions of dollars in the American market leads CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to a revelation: put a man inside a machine. After convincing Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) the only way to save her dying husband is to hand him over to OmniCorp’s Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), RoboCop is born.
Whereas director Paul Verhoeven’s late-’80s “RoboCop” relished in satirizing hyper violence and corporate greed, Brazilian director Jose Padihla’s PG-13 “RoboCop” sets its sights on the ethical dilemma of drone warfare, only with a muddier, more somber tone. The crux of the too-long subplot about the repeal of legislation banning robot cops – what is this, “The Phantom Menace?”- deals with the notion that a man should be the one pulling the trigger seems to ignore the fact that, well, men pull the triggers on robot drone strikes today. The movie also takes too long to get to the RoboCopping, dispensing buckets of backstory that ultimately doesn’t pay off, taking nearly a full hour to show off Murphy’s new cybernetic construction we all came to see.
Speaking of Murphy, the remake lets him keep his humanity from his initial boot up as RoboCop, a decision that significantly blunts the character’s arc. Instead of memory wipes, this Alex Murphy is less of a soulless automaton and instead just gets hyper-focused and emotionless when his dopamine levels are dialed down.
And, in what is perhaps the film’s worst offense, Samuel L. Jackson’s gets to utter his trademark phrase—motherfucker—only to have it bleeped. Which, when you think about it, sums up the mistakes of a straight-faced, PG-13 remake of “RoboCop” better than anything else.