'RoboCop' review: Slick action helps reinvent '80s film

Joel Kinnaman in RoboCop.

Joel Kinnaman in RoboCop.

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

In Brazilian director Jose Padilha’s revamped, reskinned reboot of RoboCop, the man-machine police officer’s biggest foe isn’t the criminal underworld of Detroit, nor the sleazy executives of a multinational corporation.

The new RoboCop’s worst enemy is the old RoboCop.

If Padilha (Elite Squad) had instead called his movie Clockwork Constable or Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Perps or something equally less fraught with baggage, then scrubbed all the direct links to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi satire RoboCop, the worst thing people would probably say about this movie is that it feels a bit derivative.

But no, this is RoboCop. And what many people will hate about it is that it’s really not RoboCop.

The basic plot pieces are still there: When Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is horrifically mutilated in a car bomb explosion, the bright but greedy minds at OmniCorp, led by scumbag CEO Raymond Sellars (an over-the-top Michael Keaton) convince Murphy’s heartbroken wife (Abbie Cornish) to let them reconstruct Murphy with a fully robotic body. All that remains of the original man, as we see in this PG-13 movie’s only squirm-inducing scene, are his head, his right hand and the odd internal organ.

While OmniCorp heralds RoboCop as the future of law enforcement, the reality is they’re using Murphy as a loophole to get around laws that forbid fully autonomous robots on American soil. The logistics of how this would scale to mass production are never quite explained… if RoboCop was a success, would OmniCorp start blowing up thousands of other cops to provide brains for their army of cyborg policemen?

But when Murphy’s human emotions start to overcome his programming, things go off the rails. With the help of a Dr. Frankenstein-like father-figure scientist (Gary Oldman), Murphy discovers OmniCorp’s agenda. And dead or alive, someone’s coming with him.

There’s a lot about the new RoboCop that works. The cast – which also includes The Wire’s Michael K. Williams as Murphy’s partner, Jackie Earle Haley as OmniCorp’s cyborg-hating R&D guy and Samuel L. Jackson as a right-wing TV blowhard – is uniformly solid. The action and special effects are slick, and Kinnaman’s jet-black robo-body looks almost as cool as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man armour. And in its own unsubtle way, the movie poses some tricky questions about everything from U.S. military drone policy to what exactly separates man from machine.

But it is a wholly different beast from Verhoeven’s bloody, cheesy, insane original. The reboot is played painfully straight, with the only whiffs of humour coming from Jackson’s TV segments and the odd deliberate homage to a one-liner from 1987’s RoboCop. And there’s absolutely no sense that the Detroit of 2028 is a cesspool of crime. Hell, it looks a lot better than the Detroit of 2014. (Probably due to much of the movie being shot in Toronto and Vancouver.)

Reboots shouldn’t slavishly imitate their predecessors, but what made the original RoboCop so memorable was its violence, its satire, its depiction of this seedy, awful world rotting from within. What we have here is a competent if not exactly memorable sci-fi action movie. A movie that is RoboCop in name only.

Twitter: @stevetilley

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca


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