Sunday, February 16, 2014


When your expectations are zero, it is impossible not to exceed them.  "RoboCop" is better than I thought it would be.  My eyeballs did not melt away in their sockets, so as remakes of Paul Verhoeven movies go, that means the new "RoboCop" is doing better than "Total Recall".  Looking at this movie here, I could see some real talent behind the camera.  The production values are impressively done, especially when you consider how disposable this product was.  Even for a split second about twenty minutes in, I had the insane thought this movie might possibly have been decent.  Then the main character came on screen and those illusions were badly shattered.  But no matter what I say from now on, do not tell me I did not give this movie a fair chance.

"RoboCop" is one of the most fondly remembered movies of 1980s.  I was born a decade too late to have jumped in on the "RoboCop" craze in my formative years, but later in life I managed to see all three of the originals, and despite my Nineties handicap I love all of them.  Nobody told me that "RoboCop 2" and especially "RoboCop 3" were supposed to suck, so I accidentally violated several laws of the Internet Collective by enjoying them*.  All these movies were great entertaining soft SciFi action.  Paul Verhoeven was never a director who took his movies very seriously, he was a very silly man.  And the original "RoboCop" is a very silly movie.  There's a car named the 6000 S.U.X., the climax features a bad guy falling into toxic waste and then melting, and then there is the main enemy robot, the ED 209, who is defeated by attempting to walk down stairs and then whines like a turtle on its back.  This is juxtaposed with a frighteningly accurate vision of Detroit's future, where the city has fallen to be hardly better than a Third World Nation, and corporations have taken over the territory once held by governments.  You know, nothing like now.  Verhoeven knew how to make a movie fun - just enough satire to be funny, but still a great straight-up action film.  Even when being purposefully ridiculous, he could make a smart action film.

The new "RoboCop" is utterly toothless.  The immediate problem would be that dreaded PG-13 rating, the first warning sign that the entire production is going to play things as safe as possible.  But "RoboCop 3" was PG-13 and still featured corporate executives jumping from windows and samurai cyborgs, it was still a fun movie with teeth.  This new "RoboCop" though is made baby-proof on every level.  The satire is almost non-existent, the violence is toned down, and every script choice seems built specifically to be as non-controversial and bland as possible.  There is at least some difference to the story by making the new RoboCop more human.  Was this a creative new spin, or a safe choice, avoiding the disturbing prospect of a movie starring a man literally eaten alive by machinery?  Ultimately you will find this to be a disposable action movie, perhaps slightly better-made than some, perhaps not an out-right insult to the original trilogy, but still merely a product.  You can take RoboCop put him in a shiny suit of CG and bland modern scripting, but what you will always leave behind is the personality and the soul.

This new movie takes place in some unspecified future decade where rather than the interesting and disturbing plotline of Detroit's urban decay and conquest by corporate interests, we instead have drones.  Drones actually are more or less the entire plot of "RemakeCop", driving every action of virtually every character.  A huge military contractor, OCP, has now manufactured an entire robot army for the United States, which has apparently conquered Iran at some point for no specified reason.  However, even though OCP has massive military contracts and operates in every country on the globe, somehow they are suffering a huge financial deficit because they cannot sell a drone police force within the United States, which is somehow essential to their profitability. (One gets the sense the screenwriter did not strain himself about any particular detail while designing this plot.)  So in order to sell the robotphobic American public on the idea of a droid army as their police force, OCP has to build RoboCop, a human police officer fighting crime within a robot body.

"They saved my jacking hand, thank God"

Enter Alex Murphy, played by Joel Kinnaman.  He's a supercool cowboy cop ready for anything.  Wait sorry, I described the Peter Weller version.  The Joel Kinnaman Alex Murphy is ______.  He has no personality to speak of, and Joel Kinnaman adds nothing to the role.  So the best way to describe the hero of our movie is with:  _______.  Imagine an empty white field, spreading out to infinity, then you have this character.  Its quite a feat to put together a RoboCop movie where your hero is more robotic outside of the suit than within, but they managed to pull it off.  Kinnaman was clearly perfect for the role, bringing all of the excitement and energy that the average janitor brings to moping the bathroom floor.  Worse, English is clearly not this actor's first language, making him force every line even in scenes that are supposed to be touching and natural.  So when Alex Murphy is petting his son's head, one cannot be sure if he is going to carry the boy off to bed or is going to shove him into the oven for a late-night snack.  So between bad screenwriting and bad acting, "RoboCop" is now forever compromised by a complete disaster for a lead character.

Alex Murphy eventually gets on the wrong side of some local gangsters, is exploded**, and then made into RoboCop to save his life and OCP's stock price.  To "RoboCop"'s credit, we actually get to see the horrible remains of this character, as Murphy is shown how little is left of his original form in the lone even remotely disturbing scene.  It is not much.  He is now a face, most of a brain, a spinal cord, two lungs, and for whatever silly reason, just one hand.  Dr. Gary Oldman could not save the arm, but he saved the hand - why or how is never explained.  Because a human brain is too slow for OCP's needs, Alex Murphy's brain is wired up with increasingly powerful computer chips.  This means that he's now a superhero badass in combat scenes, moving with all the efficency of one of the OCP-brand Terminator bots.  So you might think this is actually a Phillip K. Dick-esque transcendent story about a robot who only thinks he's human.

Or well, kindly ignore that last sentence, because I accidentally wrote up a concept that is more interesting than anything the creative team behind "RoboCop" could have ever imagined.  Really all that happens is that Murphy alternates between being his normal extremely boring self, and an impression of the classic 80s RoboCop, before finally returning to his normal boring self.  Its mildly insulting to the RoboCop legacy that the filmmakers expect me to be unhappy to see RoboCop actually acting like the RoboCop of old.  If they wanted me to be sympathetic to Alex Murphy, they should have written him as a character, not a blank slate worse than Emmet from "The LEGO Movie".  And how does our massively fascinating hero overcome his programming?  Oh, because he loves his boring family SOOOOOOO MUCH.  (Movie Theater Janitor:  I am sorry you had to clean up my puke.  I left some change in there for you.)

I thought they built RoboCop out of steel, not wood.
Oh wait, that's Joel Kinnaman's acting.

To be completely fair, some things in this movie that are not Joel Kinnaman-related are actually not bad, bordering on entertaining.  Michael Keaton makes for an excellent evil CEO - and I am so glad to see Michael Keaton finally return to the big screen after all these years, even if it had to be this.  Jackie Earl Haley probably puts together the best performance of all as the main OCP Heavy.  Then the most crowd-pleasing moment comes from Samuel L. Jackson playing a TV pundit whose entire political philosophy boils down to getting robots legalized in America.  By the way, I just described the whole entirety of the satire in "RemakeCop" in one sentence.  Hey, Samuel L. Jackson got to say the word "motherfucker", and that's not bad.  So there you are:  "RoboCop" has Samuel L. Jackson say the word "motherfucker" once, and its bleeped out.  Buy your tickets today!

But to be even more fair, Joel Kinnaman is not the only actor who does not work.  His partner, Lewis, is no longer a young female cop with whom he has fantastic chemistry, but now is Michael K. Williams, presumably male in this incarnation.  Williams has about thirty seconds of screentime, and has no chance to add anything, unfortunately.  The Murphy family too are walking plot devices with no characterization of any kind.  I was hoping the movie was going to get clever on me and reveal that the entire family was brainwashing they did to RoboCop to make him more obedient.  It would explain how unsettling and unnatural the family interaction in this movie are.  Really they exist mostly to get kidnapped by Michael Keaton once the script decides to stop even attempting any level of intelligence.  Even Gary Oldman sucks in this movie.  How badly do you have to screw up to make a Gary Oldman performance suck?  

I dare you to watch some these characters interact in this movie and not check your watch.  It cannot be done!

These two are supposed to be happy.  Can you see it?

The movie's pacing is bizarre as well.  It feels like roughly two thirds of the entire running time is spent with RoboCop in the testing phase, forcing the part where he actually fights crime - you know, the whole goddamn point - to be rushed and fleshless.  RoboCop solves his own murder in the span of five minutes, and then just kills the major gangster in Detroit in a horrific seizure-inducing firefight in a dark hallway.  Thanks, movie, I got a headache from that.  Then as the movie continues in its busy way, Michael Keaton has to transform into a moronic comic book villain with barely any time left in the movie.  Its amazing how long this movie is when the characters are so underwritten, we have no sense of the world around them (Detroit in this movie is so fantastically pristine that they might as well be in Delta City), and even the action scenes are brief and unsatisfying.  Where did all the screentime go?  I have no clue.

By the way, back on the issue of Drones.  For all the driving they do in the plot, they're ultimately meaningless to everything beyond a McGuffin for OCP.  The movie has nothing at all to save about Drone Warfare or its effects.  Pro?  Against?  Why would you look to a blockbuster to have an answer?  Well, why did the blockbuster even bring it up!?  This is just like last year's "Elysium" and its nonsense babbling about illegal immigration.  These are severe real-world problems with real suffering and deaths being exploited so that Joel Kinnaman can bullshit on interviews that this movie is "a thinking man's acting movie". If "RoboCop" is a thinking man's action movie, then One Direction is the Beatles.  I know Kinnaman probably has it written somewhere in his contract that he has to plug this movie in interviews, but saying the word "thinking man" in any relation to this movie is an insult to the very mechanism of organized thought.

"RemakeCop" is a movie that only holds up as mediocre when I am not comparing it directly to the 1987 predecessor.   When you realize all you're missing from this movie:  clever atmosphere and world-building, intelligent screenwriting, a sense of manic fun, any gore at all, you realize just how fucking depressing the new "RoboCop" really is.  But even when you're just watching the movie as a movie, its unsatisfying and shallow.  So really, there is no reason on Earth to ever watch this movie, watch the original.  But you knew that already!  There might not be too many hideous references to the old movie, and the film quality might be slightly above average, but how the Hell is "not getting anything too wrong" a recommendation?  

Now if you want something that's more true to the spirit of Verhoeven and the old "RoboCop", go see "The LEGO Movie".  It was fun, it was over-the-top, it was silly, and it actually had satire in it.  I could see "Everything is Awesome" fitting right into a modern RoboCop film.  Which is probably the biggest shame of this whole thing.  There was no reason at all that Hollywood could not have made a "RoboCop 4".  Instead we got this.  Congrats.

* Luckily nobody knows that I think "Alien 3" is a perfectly fine sequel to "Aliens" or else I'd be fighting off an angry mob.

** Literally in the same scene as the carbombing that effectively takes Murphy's life, we are narrated to that his body is destroyed, limbs gone, organs scrambled, bones smashed.  But for whatever stupid reason we can clearly see that Kinnaman has only been knocked back about five feet and the worst injury he has suffered are two small burns on his arms.  Of course the PG-13 rating means we never could have seen anything as gruesome as say... Murphy's hand getting blown off with a shotgun like in the 1987 version.

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