It wouldn’t be fair to hold Robocop up to its predecessor. Not only is the 1987 version a cult classic and susceptible to fan defensiveness, but after thirty years we can assume not everyone in today’s audiences holds an nostalgic candle for it. Besides, the last thing the world needs is more gnashing teeth over a remake. Alas, as the score suggests, Robocop doesn’t need Verhoeven’s film to drag it down. It does so quite comfortably on its own.
In the near future Omnicorp is doing well selling robots for crowd control in distant places, as displayed by a dramatic opening sequence in Tehran. But the U.S. is not all that keen on having robots apply lethal force on home soil, leaving a major market untapped. If you think this sounds a little like someone playing on contemporary drone-related issues, perhaps lazily lifted from newspapers stacked on the studio conference table…well it kind of is.
To overturn a law that prohibits having giant chaingun-firing robots in local neighborhoods, Omnicorp boss Raymond Sellars – surrounded by the prerequisite cold-hearted lawyers and marketing types – decides that they need a man in a robot suit.
Such a man presents himself in Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop who gets blown up by a local mobster’s bomb – assassinated because he was getting too close. Curiously his bedridden partner is not considered for similar treatment – this is one of the film’s many plotholes, several of which Robocop will have to overcome with sheer willpower. The movie then cunningly skips any sense of construction with a ‘3 Months Later’ caption and we are presented with the titular hero. This kickstarts an exciting set of sequences of Robocop being tested, exciting in that way only pointless tests could be. As if caught in some corporate R&D hell, Omnicorp’s flagship product struggles to get the stamp of approval.
Robo is eventually unleashed upon Detroit. It took an hour or so to get there: the movie’s pacing is inversely proportional to Robocop’s unlikely-looking ability to jump. This is mainly thanks to loads of needless dialog, designed to shunt along a convoluted storyline that is not sure what it wants to tell the audience. Are we wringing hands over domestic drones? Is this about man vs. machine? Are we dealing with Murphy’s anguish as a robot? Police corruption? Sam Jackson occupying the CNN set? Partisan media? Omnicorp’s incredible lack of any clear direction? Murphy’s right hand? In case you wonder, that hand is never explained or, if it was, it’s brief enough to miss.
The new Robocop – as in the character – is cool. But the insistence of showing his face as often as possible really fails to sell Robo as a cyborg. Instead he feels like a guy in a fancy suit – that same weird sense you get when seeing Batman without his mask. It is very hard to pin your interest on a specific character. Robocop doesn’t really come across as a robot, there is a lack of a clear overarching villain and even stalwart Gary Oldman’s doctor keeps shifting moral gears on the audience. Robocop’s biggest problem is that it is a well-made textbook movie that pulls out all the expected tricks. But it lacks any sense of imagination or adventure, then gets hamstrung with a script that tries to cover its lack of direction by piling on nonsense through contemporary themes. Once the makers of this film start blaming each other, it won’t be hard to accept that there was extensive studio meddling. Robocop is covered with a committee’s fingerprints.
One comparison has to be made with the original. Robocop 1987 was like a masterful boxer, punching when you didn’t expect and tap-dancing around the rest. This is not unique – you can find this formula of simplicity and grace in everything from Aliens to Bourne. Robocop 2014 is a drunk bar brawler who goes in swinging and hopes it does damage. If anything it shares a room with Robocop 2, also a lumbering fist swinger filled with needless themes and paper-thin characters handicapped with a ridiculous script. In fact, the two are so similar in many ways that you might wonder if the makers didn’t watch the wrong film by accident. But at least Robocop 2 had a psychotic, drug-addicted robot as a bad guy. The new Robocop has… well, the marketing guy’s beard was starting to become unnerving…
Last Updated: February 10, 2014