Directed by José Padilha. Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L. Jackson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel. (2014, PG-13, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 14, 2014
The pointless reboot RoboCop is a castrated version of Paul Verhoeven’s grim, überviolent 1987 action film about a viciously murdered Detroit cop who is reconstructed as a machine that’s designed to bring law and order to a city on the verge of anarchy. Verhoeven’s film worked both within the genre – it may qualify as the best shoot-’em-up of the Reagan era – and as a subversive punch gleefully aimed at Eighties-era corporate greed, media manipulation, and political corruption, American style. (Given that Verhoeven moved to the States to make big-budget Hollywood movies, his RoboCop and other equally provocative Hollywood films bite the hand that feeds them. And, perversely enough, they mostly made a lot of money.) This remake, however, plays it safe, bloodless in both the literal and figurative senses. It’s no more subversive than mom or apple pie. While retaining the core story of a bionic man tormented by the memory of his former human life, the film doesn’t play with the concept or give it new dimension. The whole enterprise raises the question: Why do filmmakers insist on remaking movies for no good reason?
You’d think that the flashier special effects available through computer generation today might qualify as one reason, but this particular remake takes limited advantage of such sophisticated wizardry. The action sequences are entertaining enough while watching them, but nothing sticks once you’ve left the theatre. The excellent use of sound, however, is best thing the film has to offer. The rat-a-tat-tat of the frequent bursts of automatic gunfire enhance the action sequences without overwhelming them. It’s a well-taken cue from the Verhoeven film, which deservedly won a Special Achievement Oscar for sound effects editing.
With his chiseled features and stony countenance, Peter Weller was ideal as Alex Murphy because the role required little exterior emotion. His RoboCop was a man – well, a portion of a man – of action who became a savior-hero to a populace terrorized by lawlessness. Here, the lanky Swedish-born actor Kinnaman (familiar to American audiences from the television series The Killing) plays Alex Murphy with a little more angst. He’s handsome in a loose, laid-back kind of way – he reminds you of Keith Carradine in both his physical appearance and acting style – and he’s not without talent. But this updated version of RoboCop dictates the casting of a more compelling actor in the titular role, given the absence of a strong directorial viewpoint to distinguish the film from typical genre exercises. That’s not to say that Kinnaman bears the blame for this bland and forgettable RoboCop. But he sure doesn’t help.