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ROBOCOP (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman
Screenplay by Joshua Zetumer
Based on Characters Created by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner
Directed by José Padilha
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, 
Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, 
Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel

While certainly not set in a desperate and dystopian Detroit of the future, the new Robocop movie is full of huge movie stars, video game action and a compelling storyline to take the franchise in a more modern direction.

Joel Kinnaman stars as cop Alex Murphy, and dons more than just a metal suit this time around to become a Robocop out for vengeance. Samuel L. Jackson is news anchor Pat Novak, Gary Oldman is Dr. Dennett Norton who brings Murphy back to life with his research funded by Omnicorp’s Raymond Sellars played brilliantly by Michael Keaton.

Rounding out the cast are main squeeze Abbie Cornish as wife Clara and Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire) as cop partner Jack Lewis.

The movie opens with Novak on a futuristic sound stage newsroom with 3D displays of Omnicorp’s robot army patrolling the streets of the world. The presumably right-winged newscaster pleads with Americans to overthrow the government’s The Dreyfus Act to let these OCP robots, including the familiar ED-209s to roam American streets as well. Senator Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) opposes the move for obvious reasons—robots have no feelings.

In the Detroit PD precinct, Murphy defends his moves against gun dealer (Antoine Vallon) Patrick Garrow to his boss, though his dangerous actions have landed partner Lewis in the hospital.

Over at Omnicorp, Dr. Norton is making great strides in an Omnicorp rehab center for people with missing limbs. This division of OCP is dedicated to making people’s lives better, and even demonstrates a person with robot hands playing Spanish guitar—before his emotions take over him and it glitches out the system. This breadcrumb will lead us to Murphy vs. Machine later in the movie.

In order to score the huge U.S. government contract, OCP and Omnicorp, head up by Keaton’s Raymond Sellars bursts into the guitar solo in the lab to take aside Dr. Norton with a new proposal. Market research will sell the idea of robots on the street, with a human element, and the next time Sellars faces the Senator, he’ll have two metal legs to stand on against The Dreyfus Act.

Murphy, at home with wife and son David (John Paul Ruttan), are about to retire when he hears his car alarm go off. BAM! Huge explosion as he approaches the car. Murphy is now severely injured, blind in one eye and deaf. Officer Murphy has burns over 80% of his body.

Voila. The perfect candidate is found for Sellars and Norton’s vision, a man inside a suit, protecting him from the elements, with the mind of a cop. But there’s one thing very different from our 1987 Robocop. He’s not exactly there. No spoilers here, but when you see that less of a person exists physically in Robocop this time around, do not be surprised. He’s not The Vision or anything, but the gooey parts are sort of gross!

The training or testing of the Robocop software and hardware as well as the heads up display will be appealing to fans of video games, with targeting on the drone robots and 3D assessments. There is an ongoing struggle between man and machine that would bore you to explain but adds nice tension to this film in comparison to the original.

Adding this made for more depth to Murphy as Robocop.

Another tense aspect of the film was Alex’ relationship with Clara and David throughout the movie. He is somewhat controlled by Omnicorp, but is able to resolve this as the third act and his redemption comes around. The humanity here shines through and rounds out Murphy’s character a bit.

The updates to the color of the suit (black), some callbacks to the original dialogue (yes, even a twisted Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) proclaiming, “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar”!), a cameo rendering of the Peter Weller suit are enough to make sci-fi fans be satisfied but this is not a pastiche of the 1987 movie.

This Robocop exists in a time of post-9/11 spy-fi tech for soldiers and cops on the ground. The Detroit in this film is much like the clean streets of Gotham in the Nolan Batman films. Shiny cars, full color computer displays and see-though tablets make for an update to the tech that is right for a 2014 film.

I do have two major criticisms of José Padilha’s Robocop.

First is that Samuel L. Jackson’s soliloquies and pattering on with the news stage had me wondering if his salary was based on minutes on screen. Jackson’s a fine actor but sometimes he’s just sort of ‘there’. Many props for the cursing rant though.

The second is that Detroit didn’t seem desperate enough. I don’t need to see a bunch of 80s punks with nose rings and leather vests stealing big screen TVs, but I felt like the movie existed in today’s world, and I felt only as threatened by the future as I did walking into the lobby of the theatre in Downtown. Perhaps less than that.

I missed Robocop being the savior of a city on it’s last legs, overrun by scum and villainy. This 2014 Robocop keeps Detroit safe from an invisible threat, corrupt cops, marketing guys…a veiled 1%. That’s all good but I would have liked to have seen Murphy go to a bad part of town…where bad stuff happens!

As with many remakes, reviews will come in comparing apples to oranges with the original, which is fine. Robocop 2014 is an entertaining ride, on par with sci-fi movies of our time, and the acting is outstanding.

Worth a shot for fans of the series, the concept and the original film.

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