Robocop (2014) – Reviewed

Single Sentence Review: A cop is forced to become a robot, closely paralleling the acting.

Robocop Review Poster

Robocop, the 1987 cult classic, is remade here with a slick video game interface and injected with political posturing.

Alex Murphy is destroyed and rebuilt again, but not before a lengthy and necessary introduction. One of the problems with a remake, is that the new world has to be distinguished from the original. In this world, corporate interests are out of control, but not with the same hyperbole as the original Robocop series. Samuel Jackson fills in as a news "journalist" who in actuality is a mouthpiece for Omnicorp, a maker of military grade robotics. The metaphor is not subtle. Corporations want to replace people with robots, and will spend any amount of money to overturn the laws against this.

The first time Robocop (and the action bar) leaps thirty feet over a barricade, we feel excited. But eventually the surprise simmers down to a guy shooting other guys while running through tunnels. It’s as if all the intellectual capital was spent in giving Murphy a shocking new physiology, and there was none left for visualizing action.

The movie is supposed to be about Murphy reconciling his complete lack of control as Robocop with his desire for a home life with his wife and son. Although Mrs. Murphy (Abbie Cornish) turns in a decent performance, Murphy himself is stiff even before the robotics. I enjoyed Joel Kinnaman’s performance in the murder series The Killing (U.S. version), but the directing here didn’t make good use of his talents. This theme continues, with a desperate and overplayed Gary Oldman as the scientist inventor who maintains Murphy.

The film is kept on budget and prepped for slickness by sticking motion graphics on top of everything. We see what Robocop sees too often, and it becomes mundane. We watch him extract vital signs, calculate trajectories and scan faces over and over. A first person shooter gone soft.

Spoilers

Robocop continuously gives us cool moments, and then snatches them away. When Murphy first comes on line and begins investigating criminals in the city, we feel the uneasy exhilaration that was intended. We root for Murphy and the taking down of murderers, but lament the use of citywide cameras, voice and facial recognition and cell traffic all being streamed into Murphy’s brain. Then, suddenly: we’re on our fourth shooting scene playing out exactly as the last three did.

Not to mention an unresolved scene where, after being coaxed by his wife, Robocop regains his humanity by repeatedly watching footage from the attack on him. He comes to the house out of concern for his son, but then never goes in. The double dose of corrupt Detroit cops comes as no surprise. Neither does the secondary twist where… guess what? The boss is corrupt too.

The film does get bonus points for echoing the dead voices of creepy robots in Tehran chanting assalam alaykom to Iranians, while telling them to come out of their homes with hands in the air.

This time around Murphy’s partner, Louis, is a man instead of a woman, and played by Michael K. Williams (The Wire). He’s shot right away during his and Murphy’s first operation on film. Yes they did. Murphy and Louis are inexplicably close. Murphy has just lost his partner, but black sidekick replacement is his new best friend instantly.

The film suffers from weak directing, underutilization of strong actors, and over reliance on motion graphics. It’s a fun trip down nostalgia lane for fans, but not strong enough on its own to qualify as great.

Plot: 2.7
Directing: 3.3
Cinematography: 3.2
Acting: 2.6
Sound: 3.0
Film Score: 3.0 (Out of 5)
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