Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"RoboCop (2014)": Wouldn't Buy That For A Dollar

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

So let’s get this out of the way: Is the remake of Robocop anywhere near as good as the classic original film?  No.  No it is not.  There’s quite a few flaws in this version, many of which stand independent of comparison to the original.  But did I enjoy watching it?  No!  This movie is nowhere near as intellectually engaging as the original film, nor is it as gratifyingly violent, and though I found myself somewhat entertained by the blunt political commentary, I wasn’t entertained enough to feel like my rental was justified.  The more I think about it, the sourer the memory seems to become, and since this film seems to encourage at least a little thought from its audience, that isn’t a point in its favor.

In the near future, OmniCorp is a company that produces drones that conduct military operations outside the U.S. so that human beings don’t have to put their lives at risk.  However, when it comes to domestic policing, the U.S. government is debating whether to legalize the use of robots to hunt down criminals.  The public is primarily against such a measure, so OmniCorp takes a recently blown-up cop and uses their technology to augment him into RoboCop.  RoboCop must then come to grips with his gradual loss of humanity at the hands of the evil corporation and eventually solve his own murder.  This sticks pretty closely to the original, and the updates to the premise in order to modernize the tale aren’t unwelcome.

What is unwelcome is the redesign of the RoboCop suit.  The sleek blackness of it makes it seem so generic, and it ruins the icon of the original.  And the man inside the suit isn’t much better.  Prior to the assassination attempt that almost killed him, Alex Murphy is a bland nothing of a character, and as the scientists in charge of maintaining the suit slowly drain away his ability to feel, I almost couldn’t tell the difference.  And just like all the cops in this movie, he is a two-dimensional, walking cliché, spouting much of the same dialogue we’ve heard in a million other cop movies.

The action is also pretty mindless, which was decently entertaining when it actually tried.  The CG fights are handled pretty well, though there are few of them and I wouldn’t call them especially memorable.  However, when the film goes for shooting sequences, it seems to confuse action choreography for video game camera placement.  Seriously, the main inspiration for the camera work is over-the-shoulder Gears of War and first-person Time Crisis.  All the bad guys even shoot their machine guns in the air with the same motion like there was only one animation for their character model… except these are real people being actively directed to do the same motion.  It’s kinda embarrassing, to be honest.

What I did find entertaining was the blatant riffing of Fox News and the stranglehold corporate America has on political commentary.  Is it a pretty dumbed down version of what the original Robocop did to shine a light on commercialism in the 80s?  Yeah, but you can call me a sucker if you want, because I eat this stuff up.  It doesn’t hurt that Samuel L. Jackson plays the political pundit, who just makes the scenes entertaining purely through his presence.  And let’s not forget Michael Keaton as the cartoonishly evil head of OmniCorp, which is a huge step down from the original film’s very human businessmen antagonists, but because Keaton carries the role so well, I’ll let it slide for the sake of being dumbly entertaining.

However, the commentary just isn’t enough to save this film, mostly because it isn’t even all that enlightening or original commentary to begin with.  On top of the flaws I listed earlier, many elements of the plot never really tie together in a cohesive way, at one point even resorting to substituting science with pseudo-religious plot-convenience.  I’d be willing to write off a lot for the sake of dumb fun, but the problem is that the political commentary clearly doesn’t want us in that mindset.  I liked RoboCop a little when I saw the credits roll, in a shallow sort of way, but as I sat down to write this review, all those little problems seemed to worm their way to the surface until they congealed into a mess of a movie, making me realize just how vapid and forgettable the whole experience was, which is a shame from a remake of such a classic.  There’s a lot worse things to see out there, but I can’t say I give this one high marks.  Go watch the original instead.

Fan of the original RoboCop?  Tell me about it in the comments below.

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