Near the end of this dreadful RoboCop remake, there's a piece of dialogue that defines the whole thing. Samuel L. Jackson unleashes his umpteenth diatribe as right-wing TV host Pat Novak, and drops a motherf***** that's actually bleeped out. That's the king of the MF-bomb being censored (a misplaced attempt at irony) for the sake of a PG-13 remake. And that tells you everything you need to know.
Moviegoers risking a reboot of the 1987 cult classic deserved better than this — 108 minutes of blah action and half-measures.
RoboCop hints at deeper ideas: the illusion of free will, the threat of a robot dystopia, the conflict of security versus freedom. But it never commits to any of these or any other. Instead, it commits to RoboCop looking cool on a motorcycle. That's it.
The truth is, he doesn't even look that cool — not Dark Knight on the Batpod cool. (Note: For part of the film, this RoboCop does wear black.)
As in the original, Detroit detective Alex J. Murphy (played here by Joel Kinnaman) is critically wounded and then he's resurrected, as a 10-percent-man, 90-percent-machine hero. He struggles with emotion and reconnecting with his family, thanks to the work of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), and endures flashbacks of his own violent near-death.
The remake wastes big-name talent in Jackson, Oldman, Michael Keaton and others. Hell, RoboCop will stand as an embarrassment to Jay Baruchel's oeuvre.
We can forgive Kinnaman for acting like a cyborg. As it happens, nearly every actor in the film plays it similarly, but most of the blame falls on director José Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer. They've constructed a world in 2028 that's lifeless and not at all imaginative.
Director Paul Verhoeven's original wasn't perfect, and the effects have not aged well, but his film had energy, satire and humanity under a cyborg shell.
The remake has all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb, in which the cast is forced to utter lines like "What's more important than the safety of the American people?" and "No red assets have ever been lost." It's largely humorless, certainly wary of Verhoeven's camp. When it goes for emotion, it's manipulative, as in a scene with RoboCop returning to his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan) for the first time since his resurrection.
There are a few bright spots. The deadline to have RoboCop ready is amusingly treated like the iPhone 6 release. And in one scene (and only one scene), the filmmakers truly went for broke: Alex asks to see his bodily remains under the suit and Dr. Norton obliges without hesitation. What's left of him amounts to much less than anyone could have imagined, displayed gruesomely for Alex and the audience. Nearly everyone in the preview screening shifted uncomfortably.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't go all-in enough.
Oldman has the most character on which to chew as the conflicted doctor, but even the Oscar-nominated actor isn't given much to work with. Raymond Sellars (Keaton), the owner of OmniCorp, is the one pushing the doctor to get RoboCop ready for the public.
"People don't know what they want until you show them," Raymond assures him.
That's probably what RoboCop's producers were thinking.