The Scrap Metal That Is Robocop

Like it or not, “RoboCop” is here… again.

Offering far more humanity than I had expected, this 2014 “RoboCop” is nowhere near the colossal clunker I had feared. Having said that, I couldn’t find anything distinguishable about the remake that I hadn’t seen before in “Iron Man” or played in “Call of Duty.”

If you’ve seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, you pretty much know the story here.

Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (“The Killing”’s Joel Kinnaman replaces the iconic Peter Weller) is both an honest cop and a devoted father. After an important sting operation goes wrong, Alex and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams, replacing the offbeat female dynamic that Nancy Allen brought to the original) find themselves in over their heads with some local thugs.

One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Alex has become a futuristic “Tin Man” – a science experiment spearheaded by Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton), head of multinational robotics conglomerate Omnicorp and his resident technician Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman).The story is diverting enough, and there is some emotional depth lent to Murphy’s character that wasn’t present in the original.

I enjoyed watching him grapple with his physical situation while trying to maintain his commitments at home and to the police force. Some of “RoboCop” 2014’s finest moments come between Norton and Murphy when the latter reacts abnormally to corporate protocol. In these moments, I discerned a very Shelleyan quality in their relationship which feels like one between Dr. Frankenstein and his high-tech monster.

It’s just so sad that these amazing plot devices wear thin with Joshua Zetumer’s humorless script. At least “Iron Man” was zippy.

The updated CGI and lack of gore in “RoboCop” 2014 remove any semblance of the “so bad it’s good,” B-movie feel that made the original a classic. I say this, save for one extended scene which showcases all the pieces left of Murphy when the suit is removed. It’s so graphic that it’s not even fun to laugh at, let alone watch.

For a watered-down, PG-13 remake, this “RoboCop” takes itself way too seriously. It feels twice as long as its modest 108-minute run time would suggest.

At least a handful of the supporting players try having some fun with the material. Samuel L. Jackson has a field day as Pat Novak – a loud, Wolf Blitzer-type character which allows the actor to don his finest hairpiece since Jules Winnifield’s Jheri curl in “Pulp Fiction.”

Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”) plays Rick Mattox, head of Omnicorp’s weapons division and quarterback of the company’s overseas operations. It’s diverting enough watching his character spar with Murphy.

The two hate each other, and that dynamic makes for some of the film’s lighter moments. Jay Baruchel (“This Is the End”) is miscast as marketing executive Tom Pope.

He’s as ancillary as characters come and serves no purpose except to butt in with douchey one-liners like, “Oh! He looks like a billion dollars!” and “We are going to make a loooooot of money!”

I didn’t really enjoy watching Abbie Cornish (“Limitless”) mope around either. Something about her display of emotion just feels artificial. Not as fitting as one might think for a movie about a robot.

“RoboCop” is the first American movie from Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha, who is famous for the critically-acclaimed “Elite Squad” films. With as strong an action pedigree as Padilha has, it’s a shame in its own right that this remake just feels like another reassembled video game. At least it’s not buried as far down the scrapheap as I had feared.

Author: