By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Much like the 2012 version of Total Recall failed to outdo Paul Verhoeven’s original film, this 2014 upgrade of RoboCop never matches the smart humor, over the top violence, and awesome characters that have made Verhoeven’s version a cult favorite. The new film may boast improved special effects, a couple of well choreographed action sequences, and a stellar, applaud-worthy performance by one Samuel L. Jackson, but the film is bogged down with an otherwise lackluster script and pacing problems. The new and not so improved RoboCop may look prettier, but lacks the punch that the original continues to deliver to this very day.
The year is 2028 and drone technology has been used by the military with mostly success. OmniCorp, the leading supplier of this technology to the military, faces opposition from within the U.S. government. These politicians fear the dangers of drone usage in making human life and death decisions. OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), intent on stopping any legislation that could put him out of business, attempts to sell the public and politicians on a hybrid program which combines robot technology with human control. When police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is fatally wounded on duty, his bereaved wife Clara (Abby Cornish) reluctantly volunteers Alex for the program. Even though Alex remains “alive” in a robotic suit, the OmniCorp powers-that-be want to neutralize his humanity to make him a more efficient killing machine.
Even though this upgrade changes some of the characters and story details, the message remains pretty much the same. Big business and industry can have a dehumanizing effect on people, especially when exorbitant amounts of money can be made. The trouble here is that some of the story changes that really bring down the pace and nearly eliminates the quick-witted humor and satire that make the original film so great. Directed by Jose Padilha and written by Joshua Zetumer who adapts the original screenplay by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, Robo 2014 mainly is an aesthetic upgrade and lacks the fun that will make the 1987 version enjoyable for years to come.
The film gets bogged down in a lengthier and less interesting development of Alex Murphy’s back story, something the first movie more effectively and efficiently handles in flashback sequences. In fact the investigation that gets Murphy killed never really goes anywhere interesting in this movie. Absent are the entertaining and deliciously wicked villains that make the original an absolute blast. They are replaced by easily discarded, forgettable crooks that have little impact on the overall story.
Don’t get me completely wrong, though. This movie does have charms of its own. The main villains come in the form of corporate execs in the offices of OmniCorp. Michael Keaton portrays cold and hateful CEO, Raymond Sellars, who craves more money and more power. Gary Oldman portrays Dr. Dennett Norton, a brilliant scientist whose talents and compassion get manipulated and abused by Sellars to design RoboCop as his puppet. A very funny Jay Baruchel stars as Tom Pope, a marketing underling who has a sleazy talent for spinning the latest developments at OmniCorp to win public appeal. Jackie Earle Haley portrays military strategist Rick Mattox, a soldier who trains RoboCop, but also serves as Sellars’ muscle.
As for Robo himself, Kinnaman delivers an effective performance, but cannot match the charisma and soul that Peter Weller brings to the character. The repetition of certain lines from the first film feels more like obligatory nods rather than the natural language of an iconic character. The real highlight of the movie is Samuel L. Jackson, who portrays Pat Novak, the boisterous and outspoken host of The Novak Element, a news program with an obvious politically biased agenda. He truly is magnetic, hilarious and exciting to watch in his scenes. These moments in the film provide most of the best lines and sharply written satire that is mostly absent from the rest of the film.
One can easily tell that because filmmakers toned down the humor, they have attempted to play this version a bit more straight-faced. This unfortunately makes the new movie a bit dull and less entertaining. The producers may be promoting this film as a necessary upgrade to a dated relic, but even with its new bells and whistles, RoboCop 2014 fails to take the character to new cinematic heights. I have given the film a generous rating of 2.5 (out of 4 Stars) because it does have its entertaining sequences, a solid cast, and uproarious scenes with Samuel L. Jackson. The film has heart, but lacks the audacity that makes the original an example of bold and innovative filmmaking during the 80s.