Dead or alive, I was going to see this. I admit I had a serious amount of nostalgia for the original 1987 Paul Verhooven (Starship Troopers, TOtal Recall) vehicle. I was one of the ones who when I saw the black sleek look on Robocop was unhappy. When I heard it was PG 13 instead of a hard R I was unhappy. Then I saw the trailer and at least understood why he took the black. I was more ok with it. I went yesterday as part of a double feature where my friend and I saw “I, Frankenstein” and this back to back. I don’t think going into it either of us realized the beautiful symmetry of this combination of films.
In previous reviews I have explained the multiple writer problem with a film. In some cases, the reverse can also be true where only one writer can be just as damaging to a film as too many writers. Giving such a recognizable property to a first time writer though, seems an odd choice and further echoes the words “Studio Cash Grab”. Joshua Zetumer clearly put his passion into the script and tried to update the movie for almost thirty years later. He also made some mistakes as well where he wanted to do too much and didn’t know how to execute on the interesting ideas he had. It’s a common problem with writers, myself included, where we have ideas and we want to get them to the page but we don’t explore them nearly as much as they deserve because we want to get to other stuff. Tip: If you are not ready to commit to a philosophical topic in a movie, don’t even begin to address it.
The story focuses around good cop and family man Alex Murphy. The quintessential good apple in a bad city surrounded on all sides by corruption and a city that’s screaming up to the powers that be “save us.” When Alex is seriously wounded as a counterattack for going after one of the cities biggest weapons dealers Omnicorp steps in and offers a solution. You see Omnicorp has a problem, they can’t put their robots on the streets of the US due to a law and the power of public opinion. Instead they put a man in a machine and sell him to the people to get opinion to change and to overturn the law. If only it were that easy, see a man has a will his own and while OCP seeks to control him at any cost the newly roboticized Alex decides the cost is too high.
Much like the original the film tries to lampoon a bit of what the modern societal landscape is. The 80s version covered ridiculous, toxic waste, corporate corruption, russians, drugs, and the raw depredation of society. While a serious film, it didn’t take itself too seriously. The 2014 version attempts to poke at the pathetically one sided news agencies with hosts who don’t report news but shout buzzwords at an accepting audience, marketing and that self same corporate greed the earlier one did. This one also tries to get philosophical and asks the question of what makes a man? unfortunately I Frankenstein handled that better (more in that review) The problem with all of this is that it takes itself too seriously and rather than shining a light on the idiocy of it all; it instead becomes a simple weak beat in a plodding plot.
The script isn’t entirely to blame though. Jose Padilha, in his first time directing an american film, also deserves his share of the blame. The movie has some of the most horrific pacing issues I’ve seen of late. It runs an easy twenty minutes longer than is needed and has a deeply unsatisfying ending thats reminiscent of the Return of the King with the number of false stops it has. His direction of the camera doesn’t do the action any justice either with a constant swirl or shaky cam that tells me he just wanted to try the technique. I only say that because he shows in other sequences that he does understand the concept of a steady cam. A sequence in which Robocop attacks a lab is shot in either thermo vision or night vision depending in which side of the fight you are on. It felt like he saw how Tarantino got away with bloodshed in Kill Bill (Bride vs Crazy 88s) and wanted to try that so he could keep the movie at a studio mandated PG13.
The studio also gets its share of the blame, but sadly its understandable from a corporate point of view. Their job is to make money and R rated movies don’t make nearly as much as PG-13 as they keep out a significant portion of the potential young male audience. First time director, first time writer, no actors anyone really recognizes (mostly)? Its clear they didn’t care about the project and just wanted to make a little over its budget or needed to retain rights for later.
The acting is…a mixed bag for me. The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman does what he can with the script and the direction. He tries a lot to bring some emotion to a film otherwise devoid of it. Is he as imposing as Peter Weller? No, not even close. His delivery of a few nostalgic lines needed work. But he tries and that is important. Abbie Cornish (Suckerpunch) plays his wife and tries as hard as Kinnaman does to bring emotion to it and deal with the storyline of Alex trying to reconnect to his family after the accident. I’d like to see more of her in other films; though admittedly I thought she was Radha Mitchell at first. Those are the two noteworthy performances. Michael Keaton phones it in as director of Omnicorp Raymond Sellers. Everything about him comes across like a half arsed understanding of what a corporate leader is these days. I know he is trying to make a career comeback, but he will have to actually put a little effort next time. Sadly next time is Need for Speed; not a good way to come back Mike. Jackie Earle Haley (watchmen, Nightmare on Elm Street) and Samuel L Jackson are here to chew scenery and be just shy of ridiculous. Sadly only Haley actually delivers on that. Jacksons presence while picking on the modern news agent actually detracts from the movie. As my friend said “I can’t take the movie seriously now” when he finished his opening rant. It was true. He was too much as he often is. I loved sam for awhile, but much like Willis he needs to stop while he is ahead before he becomes his own punchline. Speaking of actors, Gary Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton tries as well to do what he can with the material. His performance falls right in the middle. I love Oldman for all he does, but could have cared less this time around.
That’s largely the problem with the film. I don’t care. It had no substance to it. It wanted to be more than it was capable of and reached for the stars. I don’t even think it made escape velocity. It wasn’t prepared to commit to any of the ideas it wanted to try and because of that for well over two hours you are left wanting a bit more than you will ever get from the movie.
It is not right, nor fair, to compare it to the original. They are different films; and as much as I love the original I know its not good. Its a beautiful painting of ridiculousness.
Sorry to say folks, Robocop deserves a pass. I had hope for it, but as the credits rolled I felt unsatisfied. Your move hollywood, make it a good one next time.