RoboCop -- A Review
The first RoboCop, made for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million back in 1987, with Peter Weller and Nancy Allen in the critical roles and directed by the capable Paul Verhoeven, was a hit. A sequel was quickly made in 1990, with Irvin Kershner as director. This being the animation- and action-feature era of films, 15 years is enough passage of time to give a permit for a run at a second potential franchise.
It's now 2028, but the plot is still the same: A dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, and a terminally wounded police officer, Alex Murphy, is engineered by clever scientist Dennett Norton (played by the ever-suspect Gary Oldman) to return to the crime-fighting force as a cyborg, a powerful part-man, part-machine haunted by submerged memories. Norton is managed by Michael Keaton's opportunistic CEO of OmniCorps, Raymond Sellars. All together now: OmniCorps is a multinational conglomerate. Hiss, boo, meh. And we know that though there are bad guys (inside and) outside the streamlined, latest-word police station that loving husband and father Murphy will get to dispatch without a backward glance, unerring in aim, the real baddie is the corporation. Surprise.
While it's good to see Keaton after a too-long hiatus, he seems slightly overshadowed by the acting firepower wattage of Oldman. Keaton was always better as a sardonic outsider, a cynic. Similarly miscast is a new character, Pat Novak, a talk-show host in the rabble-rousing, controlled-fury mode of Howard Beale, played by an over-the-top, too-out-there Samuel L. Jackson. He seems to be the moral conscience of the film, the Greek chorus, telling us that whatever fun being bad seems, the U.S. is the greatest, and we must remember that through all the gunplay.
Today's eponymous popcorner was made for $130 million, about 10 times the cost of the original. And, yes, director Jose Padilha has provided it with a glossy sheen with technology and whizz-bang graphics -- as well as a blunderbuss percentage of special effects CGI that practically draws a text-message box at the audience -- Here Be CGI for the ruined body of the Injured cop, played now by the unremarkable (though tall) Joel Kinnamon, new to films. The political angle enters as the Senate acts against the inclusion, Stateside, of robot cops with human internals. Around the world, we see the 'bots clomping around Japan, Afghanistan and elsewhere making the streets safe for pedestrians, but the corporation fears Americans won't cotton to huge, clanky-geared mechanical minders and transformer robots stomping all the spontaneity out midtown areas. The introduction of robots with "feelings," instead of the pandemic law-enforcement robots that maintain order around the world, is deemed the solution, but is debated hotly through the proceedings, and called, amusingly, The Dreyfus Act.
Not given enough to do is the beauteous and talented Aussie, Abbie Cornish, playing Murphy's determined and loving wife, Clara; we interviewed her in 2009, when she starred in the refined BRIGHT STAR, the captivating romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. We thought she deserved an Oscar for her portrayal. Also lovely in a supportive role is the porcelain beauty, Jennifer Ehle, one of the corporate bad guys. Titian-haired Ehle was seen in Zero Dark Thirty two years ago, for too few minutes, before she was heartbreakingly terminated by an IED in front of us.
As depicted in the gorgeous computer graphic representations and on-street live action sequences, Detroit looks spectacular. Though it is apparently riven by petty crime lords and drug dealers. Detroit should live so long to look the way it's depicted here, glitzy enough to rival Las Vegas. There is no hint of the ravaged city we know it to be, with vast swathes of the urban landscape blighted and abandoned to wild grass and the Northern equivalent of sagebrush. We see on Novak's hologram-inflected TV show that the president is some older guy, not H-R-Hillary nor Chelsea. (Thank the Deity.)
With enough shooting and white-hat carnage to rival the most violent video game, we can begin to see why there is a national shortage of bullets. Neither the fleshly, greedy creeps nor the cyborgs get a shot in, 99% of the time, so there is little suspense. Murphy is, after all, largely managed by a chip that makes him near-invincible, and nearly mechanical, though his humanity seeps back in somehow at frequent intervals. Despite the constant fusillades and street firefights, we see little blood, and even the massively damaged Alex Murphy is discretely disarrayed when shot, his excellent red-laser-slit visor broken and sedately askew. There is little haunting injury or picturesque violence that speaks to the reality of gun contests , as there are few profanity logrolls, save for one sequence -- bleeped -- on Jackson's Crossfire-like program. Kids won't notice the underlying message of unbenign corporation vs. man vs. criminals. It's so like their video exploits, their fingers might twitch. The one stylized spousal scene between Clara and Alex is oblique and chastely not graphic.
Takeaway: the original, modest RoboCop of 1987 had more humor -- more heart, too -- than this one does. Despite the tacked-on patriotic message we get thrown at us out of the ether. Catch the original on late-night TV.